Goldengrove by Francine Prose is a tender examination of a young girl’s grief over the loss of her beloved older sister, Margaret.
Margaret is a dreamer, a lover of old movies, a poet and singer. Nico and Margaret are sisters and co-conspirators, finding ways for Margaret and her boyfriend Aaron to be together behind their parents’ backs. With summer coming up, the last summer the sisters will be together before Margaret goes off to college, they are looking forward to spending time together. One warm spring day, Margaret and Nico take a rowboat out on the lake. Margaret, smoking cigarettes and talking to 13 year old Nico about boys and sex, stands and gives Nico a final salute before diving into the water and heading for shore. Except, she never gets there. Margaret drowns in the lake, and life for her family is never the same.
“What had we talked about before? Margaret had done all the talking. Now there was nothing to say. We were the wallflowers left behind when Margaret waltzed away.”
Margaret’s death is a minor tragedy in their small upstate New York community, but completely devastating for her family. Her dad loses himself in his writing project, and her mom self medicates with alcohol. Nico is mostly forgotten and ignored, although as their One Remaining Child, they do set down some rules and safety guidelines for her that sometimes seem a bit extreme. At one point she wants to tell Margaret how goofy her parents are behaving, but then remembers the reason they are acting that way. While her parents are distracted, Nico goes through every stage of grief. Consumed by thoughts of Margaret, she must learn to cope with her loss.
Nico helps her dad at his bookstore, Goldengrove, and during slow times she reads up on heart conditions, fearing she has the same physical ailments Margaret had. She also begins secretly hanging out with Aaron, becoming partners in grief with her sister’s lover. She believes he is the only one who understands what she’s going through, and being with him makes her feel normal again. But his reasons for wanting to spend time together are different than hers; he wants to turn her into Margaret and doesn’t see her for the young, naive girl she actually is.
The majority of the story takes place during the summer after Margaret’s death; all of it, actually, except the last 4 or 5 pages. This would be my only quibble with the book- the ending, with Nico as an adult, felt kind of tacked on, detached, and unnecessary. However, even with the quickie ending, this is realistic fiction at it’s finest.
Francine Prose has written a piece of art, a mournful yet exquisite novel that was an absolute pleasure to read. She is amazingly talented and I am thrilled to have discovered this new-to-me author. I’d highly recommend Goldengrove to anyone who enjoys beautiful writing, coming of age stories, or family drama.
Goldengrove is Francine Prose’s 15th novel.
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