my life in books: Goldengrove
Goldengrove by Francine Prose is a story set amid the landscape of immeasurable loss and grief. Its thirteen year old protagonist, Nico, attempts to comes to terms with the loss of her older sister, Margaret, as her parents fold into themselves as they, too, seek solace from the pain.
At the center of Francine Prose’s profoundly moving new novel is a young girl facing the consequences of sudden loss after the death of her sister. As her parents drift toward their own risky consolations, thirteen-year-old Nico is left alone to grope toward understanding and clarity, falling into a seductive, dangerous relationship with her sister’s enigmatic boyfriend.
Over one haunted summer, Nico must face that life-changing moment when children realize their parents can no longer help them. She learns about the power of art, of time and place, the mystery of loss and recovery. But for all the darkness at the novel’s heart, the narrative itself is radiant with the lightness of summer and charged by the restless sexual tension of teenage life.
I had never heard of Francine Prose before. But she’s written something like 15 books. I have no idea why she has eluded me. Especially because she is quite simply, amazing. Her prose is so fluid and haunting with a subtle poeticism about it. Just thoughtful. With stunning and beautiful metaphors, with lovely details passages. In fact, the opening lines give you a good idea of the quality of the writing:
We lived on the shore of Mirror Lake, and for many years our lives were as calm and transparent as its waters. Our old house followed the curve of the bank, in segments, like a train, each room and screened porch added on, one by one, decade by decade.
When I think of that time, I picture the four of us wading in the shallows, admiring our reflections in the glassy, motionless lake. Then something–a pebble, a raindrop–breaks the surface and shatters the mirror. A ripple reaches the distant bank. Our years of bad luck begin.
Most of the novel is spent on the introspective musings of Nico. There is action and dialogue, certainly, but the bulk of the story is Nico thinking. She has a wisdom about her and an uncanny ability to understand those around her, despite the confusion she feels. Her desperation–or more appropriately, her desire–to reclaim a piece of her sister is what drives this book. She falls into a peculiar and somewhat perverse relationship with her dead sister’s boyfriend. And these sessions with Aaron are one of the driving forces of the novel. For me, at least. The two of them share only one commonality and that is that they miss Margaret. In each other they find a way to remember her as they recount conversations and songs and films they shared with her when she was alive. It is because of these scenes that we, as readers, discover who Margaret is as a character. Ironically, she comes alive in spite of her death. In fact, Margaret is almost a ghost throughout this book. I don’t mean that literally, it’s just that her memory lingers over every moment. You sense her–and her absence–all the time.
If you want to get technical, I love Prose’s use of grammar and punctuation. She inserts commas and em dashes at all the right beats and sometimes uses short sentences, so the prose flows out as if you were reciting a poem. It’s just lovely, lovely, lovely. Anyway, once again, this is a lovely piece of work. I soared right through this book in little more than a day. There’s a crisp and deliberate quality to the language and you can sense that the author thought carefully about her words. So, I recommend!