"When I said I didn't want to go out, they sounded a little annoyed, as if I was acting princessy and spoiled. Why didn't I appreciate the good deed they were doing? They seemed relieved when I said no and they could hang up before I changed my mind or started crying. Naturally, they sounded strange. They weren't talking to the same person. I was no longer Nico. I was the dead girl's sister." -- From Goldengrove by Francine Prose
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 don't want to spoil your reading experience, so I won't provide plot details.
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.