Goldengrove: A Novel Paperback – Aug 20 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
In Prose's deeply touching and absorbing 15th novel, narrator Nico, 13, comes upon Gerard Manley Hopkins's Spring and Fall (which opens Margaret, are you grieving/ Over Goldengrove unleaving?) in her father's upstate New York bookstore, also named Goldengrove. It's the summer after her adored older sister, Margaret—possessed of beauty, a lovely singing voice and a poetic nature—casually dove from a rowboat in a nearby lake and drowned. In emotive detail, Nico relates the subsequent events of that summer. Nico was a willing confidant and decoy in Margaret's clandestine romance with a high school classmate, Aaron, and Nico now finds that she and Aaron are drawn to each other in their mutual bereavement. Unhinged by grief, Nico's parents are distracted and careless in their oversight of Nico, and Nico is deep in perilous waters before she realizes that she is out of her depth. Prose eschews her familiar satiric mode. She fluidly maintains Nico's tender insights into the human condition as Nico comes to discover her own way of growing up and moving on. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
“With perfect pitch and no trace of sentimentality, Prose . . . lands on the precise emotional key for this novel . . . allowing humor and compassion to seep through the cracks of an otherwise dark tale.” (San Francisco Chronicle)
“Ms. Prose is perceptive. . . . Her modest-sounding book turns out to be beautifully wrought.... and yields an unexpectedly rich, tart, eye-opening sense of Nico’s world.” (New York Times)
“With a dazzling mix of directness and metaphor, Prose captures the centrifugal and isolating force of grief...Prose exquisitely renders her characters’ grief and bafflement.” (Los Angeles Times)
“Arguably, “Goldengrove” is her best book yet.” (Seattle Times)
“Prose locates the life force that gives her narrator the quirky, irreverent but undeniable sound of a survivor. . . . Prose is tremendously skilled.” (Chicago Tribune)
“Francine Prose’s new novel is a quiet, clear-eyed, sun-dappled eulogy to lost youth, and a youth lost. . . . [Prose is ] a keen chronicler of human emotion.” (Elle)
“A page-turner, thanks to its wholly identifiable, and perfectly flawed, young heroine. A-” (Entertainment Weekly)
“A beautiful narrative that defines resilience as the sometimes heartbreaking act of simply living” (Redbook Magazine)
“A poignant account of growing up amid sorrow...a tender and moving story of adolescent love.” (Hartford Courant)
“Prose holds up a mirror to grief and family life we can’t look away from, revealing their truths on page after page, in beautifully crafted writing.” (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
“Prose’s skillful rendering of the human ability to accept hard truths and move on is a poignant lesson for us all.” (Miami Herald)
“Insightful, lyrical... “Goldengrove” is beautifully and simply written...a moving portrait of the search for identity through a landscape of pain and loss.” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)
“Beautifully crafted...perhaps her most emotionally satisfying novel.” (Christian Science Monitor)
“An exploration of the fragility of adolescent identity and the perilous undertow of grief” (O magazine)
“Prose creates characters with real flaws that make the reader both love and hate them. It is easy to put oneself in the position of any of the players...” (Deseret Morning News)
“Deeply touching and absorbing...” (Publishers Weekly)
“...emotionally authentic...a ravishing novel of the mystery of death and life’s assertion.” (Booklist (starred review))
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Top Customer Reviews
Thinking back their early days with Margaret, Nico, Henry and Daisy are at a loss to deal with the state of her death. Once the idol of Nico's life, Margaret and her fit together so perfectly that Nico never anticipated such an abrupt estrangement. Each family member handles her absence differently: Henry seeks comfort in Goldengove his bookstore, spending his evenings and Sundays working on a book about how people in different cultures and eras imagine the end of the world.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Choosing this book to review from the Amazon Vine Program was an utter gamble on my part, for I never heard of Francine Prose and wasn't sure if I was up to a book on grief (especially having lost my first husband to leukemia).
What I discovered while reading Goldengrove was an author who had the extraordinary ability to paint subtle word pictures that animates sunlight, dust, song, shirt, fireworks, ice cream, pond scum and other surroundings normally overlooked on a given day. But arguably author Francine Prose's best gift, at least in this book, is offering an unflinching, accurate portrayal of the way individuals differ in handling grief.
I won't provide you plot details, for others have done so and I don't want to spoil your experience.
What I wish I could communicate (but words are failing me) is the uncanny ability the author has for getting under your skin--making you sympathize and squirm, exult and panic--by writing a book that appears to have a straightforward plot: a girl drowns, and her family and the dead girl's boyfriend attempt to deal with it.
While Goldengrove may sound like a depressing book, it's not. Sobering, yes...it catapulted me into a very contemplative mood for a day ("Gothic" my husband remarked). But death is a part of life, and how individuals deal with grief is as varied as the people on the planet (although the five stages simmer somewhere amongst the grief stew--denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance).
Francine Prose's writing is pure poetry. I marveled at it--pondered it. I read passages to my husband. One part, where she described why her sister had a buggy startled look in her school portrait, had me laughing so hard that my stomach hurt. I tried to read it to my husband, but everytime I started, I lost it. After the fifth time, I just handed the book to him so he could read it for himself...
There are too many gorgeous passages to highlight in this review, but here's a small sampling of Prose's writing style:
"If all the clocks and calendars vanished, children would still know when Sunday came. They would still feel that suck of dead air, that hollow vacuum created when time slips behind a curtain, when the minutes quit their ordering tick and ooze away, one by one. Colors are muted, a jellylike haze hovers and blurs the landscape. The phone doesn't ring, and the rest of the world hides and conspires to pretend that everyone's baking cookies or watching the game on TV. Then Monday arrives, and the comforting racket starts up all over again."
If you're looking for a feel-good novel or a beach read, this is not for you. No, Goldengrove is work to be enjoyed by those who appreciate nuance, the art of words, and the vagaries of human experience portrayed with sheer artistry.
I am glad I chose to read Goldengrove. It was time well spent. It reminded me to treasure every fleeting moment, take nothing for granted, and be grateful for the living around me.
I'm also glad to discover Francine Prose, and will be putting her books--fiction and non-fiction--on my Amazon WishList.
For the discerning, Goldengrove is a novel well-worth the time spent in its presence.
GOLDENGROVE is an exquisitely written, insightful, short novel with many well drawn and sympathetic characters including Nico and Margaret's aging hippie parents, Elaine a single mom of a handicapped child and her son Tycho a quite realistically drawn person with autism. Prose references many things from history and pop culture such as the 19th century cult the Millerites, the 60's pop singer Nico, and Hitchcock's movie VERTIGO all of which sent me scrambling to the internet to find out more about them. This is a good choice for both adults and teens who want a story with strong and ultimately life affirming themes.
"Goldengrove" is the kind of book that I can see many picking up eagerly. It makes sense. The subject matter is dark, mournful, and intriguing - dangerous boys and death. What could be better for some readers? Well, premise is fine and all, but a book needs to live up to it. And "Goldengrove" simply does not. While tastily written (in that Prose's prose is elegant, swift, and descriptive), the plot (surprisingly reminiscent to teen counterpart "Saving Zoe", minus the murder) is bland. Almost all the characters sound the same. Another reviewer blasts the "fantasy" in that the teens like old movies. That part is fine. It's the unconvincing tone of 13-year old Nico that disappoints (even I didn't speak like that then). It's the way every character sounds the same, how no character other than Nico ever gets even slightly fleshed out.
"Goldengrove"'s premise rang false with me too. This is the umpteenth book with this premise I've read, where the glamorous beloved older sister dies and the simpler younger one deals by trying to live her sister's life. The teen (+murder) version of "Goldengrove" is "Saving Zoe" by Alison Noel. And while that book too had its flaws, it at least felt vaguely real to me. "Goldengrove" felt overdramatized, with that gasping incompleteness at the end. It didn't touch me emotionally (as one would expect) and it simply failed to convince. The one thing it had going for it was the clear, lucid writing. Beautiful, yes. Meaningless? Yes.
Ultimately, "Goldengrove" is lacking in a number of regions. It's not a horrible book, it was not painful to read. All it was was a bland, repetitive, cliched novel that felt like an adult trying to sound like a teen (and failing). Yes, moments were "poignant" and had "clarity", but on the whole, it failed to live up to expectations. Yes, it's a beautifully written novel and yes, the idea might have been nice (once upon a time when it wasn't amazingly old), but combined with an unrealistic main character and bland writing, it comes off wrong.
Some readers may enjoy the quiet emptiness to "Goldengrove", especially if they don't mind Nico's unrealistic voice. And yes, Prose's writing is lovely. But this book is not recommendable.
The author paints a beautiful picture with her words. The descriptions are laced with an artistic aura that makes you truly understand what the characters are feeling.
This story is about 13 year old Nico and the close relationship that she had with her older sister, Margaret. We are given a short chapter that truly shows the beautiful bond of sisterhood and then sadly Margaret passes before her time. She leaves behind, Nico, her parents and an artistic boyfriend "with a screw loose". It weaves in and out as each member tries to come to terms with her death.
The father retreats into his bookstore, the mother into abusing prescription medications, the boyfriend wants to bring back Margaret through Nico and finally Nico is trying to figure out how she will get through the Summer without her sister/best friend; yet alone the rest of her life. She goes quickly from an immature 13 year old to a young woman with pain and desires. Nico comes to the realization that everything is crumbling around her and that her parents are weak.
The part that intrigued me at first was the relationship that slowly build between Nico & Margarets' boyfriend. I wanted the romance; instead I was given a long hard look into the reality of a man trying to bring back his dead girlfriend through her younger sister. It pained me to see that Nico was feeling desires and the reality was this man doesn't love her for herself. The author finally shows us why the boyfriend "had a screw loose" in a climactic end when Nico put an end to the perverse games that he was playing.
I loved the references to many old movies and actors. The characters' were a breath of fresh air. They weren't the cookie cutter, pretty popular girl, jock guy etc etc; they had depth which I appreciated so much.
I am now going to seek out more works by this lovely and talented author. Highly recommend this read, but I will say now that it is rather depressing.
One day Margaret, a promising, beautiful high school senior on her way to study voice in Oberlin College, drowns in the Mirror Lake when she takes a dive from a rowboat. Her death the beginning of this novel, told from the perspective of Margaret's younger sister Nico, thirteen at the time of the tragedy. Nico narrates the events of the summer after Margaret's death, remembering them as an adult, but (maybe because of her scientific mind) she gets back into the mindset of the frightened, grieving girl, who just lost her beloved role model of an older sister. She idolizes Margaret and seems to think everyone else did too. She describes the grief of her parents, who get through it in their own ways - the mother, Daisy, withdraws into tranquilizer-induced stupor and the father, Henry, immerses himself in his writing project - a book about how different cultures envision the end of the world. Nico is left to her own devices and deals with her overwhelming grief in a very slow and painful process. She gets into a bizarre relationship with her sister's boyfriend, Aaron... Finally, she manages to get back to normal life, but her sister's death marks the end of her childhood and makes her realize many things much faster than she probably would otherwise.
I loved the way, how Francine Prose incorporates different works of art - music, films, paintings, poetry (after all, a poem is at the center of this novel) and uses them to show the impact of our humanity and civilization on the life of individuals. On the other hand, it reminded me again, how we perceive and interpret art through the lens of our own experience and moods, so that the moment in our life, when we encounter a particular oeuvre, has a lot of impact on our memories of it.
Because "Goldengrove" is so firmly rooted in culture, it becomes a unique study of grief and shows how being human among other humans and feeling it, but understanding the individual self, can help regain sanity after a personal loss. It is a very sad book, which weighed on me as I read on and there were moments I wanted to put it aside, because I felt so sad - but I could not stop reading. The ending brought me relief... I feel like I am richer, somehow, because I read "Goldengrove" - it was a valuable read for me.