Goldengrove By Francine Prose
Goldengrove by Francine Prose is a novel about a family, grief, and carrying on with life in a meaningful way. It is a terrific book. It is well written, realistic; serious but comforting. Yes, there is sadness but it is not a depressing book at all, even though it is about a death and the family who must survive it. Very early in this book Margaret drowns – on a beautiful, warm spring day just before high school graduation. The survivors, her boyfriend, her parents and her sister, must find a way to continue with their lives. Margaret had finished high school and was planning to go on to study music at university. Her younger sister, Nico, is only13. Nico and her parents have a home on the lake where Margaret drowned, and own a book shop in the nearby town.
It is easy for it to seem that Margaret was the centre of all of their lives, as they are each locked into their own grief. If she had lived she would simply have been the older sister – in death she becomes more important than anyone else. The family despairs, they do not sleep well, disturbed by dreams and the pressure to keep up with the responsibilities of the business and household. They are grieving even as they make an attempt to go about their lives.
This novelist understands the grieving family and their experiences, as her characters react to this tragic change in their lives – they know, forever more, the difference between inconvenience and tragedy. They know the unreality of the absence of the person they loved, the relentlessness of their loss. Margaret’s mother finds solance in prescription painkillers, her father retreats into his office, writing a book about the end of the world. And Nico turns to Margaret’s boyfriend Aaron. Nico and Aaron find they can talk to each other about Margaret and how they are feeling now – as they can talk to no one else. She meets him, lying to her parents about where she is, knowing they would disapprove. Their relationship becomes an obsession for Nico. She is a very smart 13-year-old, but she is no match for a manipulative high school graduate.
This novel was absolutely riveting – I could not stop reading and finished it in several hours - a very late night. The characters are real, they are resilient and they are caring, but they are having a very difficult time. The only false note for me was that the period of time during which they are having so much difficulty is over the course of less than a year. But that being said, it was just great read from the first page to the last.