Tiffany's Reviews > Goldengrove

Goldengrove by Francine Prose
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Apr 11, 2011

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bookshelves: 2011, american-fiction
Read from April 11 to 13, 2011

Goldengrove begins with a conversation between two sisters: Margaret, the beautiful singer who just graduated high school, and thirteen-year-old Nico, the younger sibling who worships her older sister. They're sitting in a boat on a lake in their backyard, talking about some pretty ordinary adolescent things like weight, boys, and smoking. All the while we're getting to know Margaret and how cool she is in the eyes of her younger sister (also the narrator): Margaret has a thing for old movies, vintage clothes and furniture, and she sings "My Funny Valentine" like it's sex on a stick. Her parents don't approve of her boyfriend Aaron, so she sees him in secret and probably has sex with him in his creepy soccer mom minivan. He's an artist, and Margaret's father thinks he has "a few screws loose".

At the end of the first chapter, Margaret jumps into the lake and drowns. Turns out she has a heart condition that causes her to occasionally pass out, and her ticker decided to take a little nap at a really awful time. The rest of the book depicts a family immersed in extreme grief, all from Nico's point of view. Goldengrove is ultimately a story about loss and the crazy things people will do to fill the void caused by that loss.

I liked the quiet nature of the story, but I found the writing to be rigid and lacking in fluidity. That being said, I understand how difficult it must be for a writer to pull off grief and mourning without injecting a sort of stiff discomfort into their prose. But add that to the informal voice of a thirteen-year-old girl, and sometimes you get oddly inconsistent pockets of intentional sloppiness mixing with some pretty formal language. There are probably cases wherein this would be a nice contrast that would actually add depth to the writing, but Prose didn't find a way to mesh the two together in a cohesive way. This may be one reason I also thought some of the secondary characters fell flat, such as Nico's hippie parents. It's like Prose was trying so hard to make them unique that they actually became their own little cliches. I still cared about them more than I thought I would, though.

While the concept of the plot didn't strike me as particularly original, Prose succeeded in allowing it to unfold in such a way that I felt disturbed by what I knew was on the horizon. I knew Aaron was a creep to begin with, and I couldn't tear my eyes away from his predatory acts of replacement therapy with Nico: making her wear Margaret's old perfume, insisting she wear Margaret's clothes, feeding her Margaret's favourite ice cream, etc. And of course Nico's going to go ahead and fall weirdly in love with him because she's thirteen and Aaron's one of the only real connections she has left to her sister. This is when the rigid, uncomfortable nature of the writing actually felt appropriate. As I was reading I felt like I was having one of those slow motion moments where you put your hand out and say, "Noooooo!" as the main character lets something really stupid happen. But then it turned out that it wasn't as bad as I thought, and even though Aaron was way creepy and out of line, he really just went temporarily insane because his girlfriend died. Or maybe he was insane to begin with and really did have some screws loose all along.

The end really bothered me. I won't spoil it for those who have yet to read the book, but the ending was way too neat and tidy for my liking. Perhaps I'm just used to Canadian writers who like to end their books in dark and mysterious ways that keep you guessing, but I wasn't impressed by the finality of the family's grief. Because grief isn't final, and a Canadian would never dare to portray it as such. Just sayin'.

Would I recommend this book? I wouldn't say it's a must-read, but I wouldn't kick it off my shelf.
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Reading Progress

04/12/2011 page 108
38.0% "The writing seems a little rigid for my tastes. And I've got a case of the "who cares?""
04/12/2011 page 160
56.0% "Creepy: Nico's addicted to her dead sister's vanilla essential oils. Said dead sister's boyfriend insisted she wear it, and then leaned in to smell her. I know Nico's 13, and I'm trying to figure out Creepo's age--probably 18? EW!"
04/13/2011 page 225
82.0% "My instincts were right, Aaron is a little creepy weirdo. Ugh, reading this book is like watching a train wreck."
04/13/2011 page 272
99.0% "A Canadian would never end a book this way, so neat and tidy."

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