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Bookmarks Issue: 
37-Nov-Dec-2008
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A-GoldengroveIn a departure from her witty, satiric novels, Francine Prose’s 15th work of fiction (after A Changed Man, 3.5 of 5 Stars May/June 2005) is a quiet, meditative exploration of a family’s descent into despair and isolation.

The Story: In upstate New York, just weeks before her high school graduation, 17-year-old Margaret—beautiful, confident, and adored—drowns tragically, leaving her doting parents and younger sister Nico to muddle through their grief and loss. "Margaret’s death had shaken us, like three dice in a cup, and spilled us out with new faces in unrecognizable combinations," explains Nico. Nico, 13, watches helplessly as her family implodes: her father seeks solace at his Goldengrove bookstore and researches his book on eschatology, while her mother numbs her pain with pills. Innocent, confused, and teetering awkwardly on the cusp of womanhood, Nico turns to Margaret’s heartbroken boyfriend Aaron for comfort, but the relationship takes a dark turn for which Nico is wholly unprepared.
Harper. 275 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 0066214114

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"Prose’s consistently complex and incisive narratives exhibit uncommon grace and authority, making each new publication an occasion for welcome. Goldengrove is no exception, offering readers the privilege of witnessing one girl’s journey to womanhood through the prism of profound loss, a young soul on its way to becoming older, and wise." Jessica Treadway

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"On its smooth, shiny surface, Goldengrove is a simple tale of a haunted summer of profound, multi-pronged loss. Prose, however, transforms what in a lesser writer’s hands could be mawkish into a moving meditation on how, out of the painful passing of innocence and youth, sexuality and identity can miraculously emerge." Heller McAlpin

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"[The book] blossoms into a smart, gimlet-eyed account of what 13-year-old Nico sees happening around her after the loss of the more alluring, glamorous and manipulative Margaret. Nico’s experience goes well beyond the realms of adolescence and family dynamics and yields an unexpectedly rich, tart, eye-opening sense of Nico’s world." Janet Maslin

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"With perfect pitch and no trace of sentimentality, Prose, author of A Changed Man and Blue Angel, lands on the precise emotional key for this novel. She navigates a fine line, allowing humor and compassion to seep through the cracks of an otherwise dark tale." Mary Dixie Carter

Wall Street Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"Ms. Prose raises her work above the dead-kid-lit genre by bringing so much psychological acuity to her treatment of the novel’s characters. She also laces her writing with powerful imagery and with vivid cultural references, deftly weaving in discussions that range from the end-of-times depictions in medieval and Renaissance paintings to Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo." Gabriella Stern

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"With Goldengrove, the author who has so brilliantly taken on political correctness, New Age feminism, Columbine and even Elie Wiesel sheathes her acerbic wit for a searching, painful story about one family’s grief. … Caught in that fluid, contradictory period of naiveté and sexual awakening, self-absorption and insight, Nico is such a dynamic, unsettled character that she compels us through a story that could have been grim and static." Ron Charles

NY Times Book Review 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Although we soon see where [the relationship between Nico and Aaron] is heading, it takes Nico nearly the length of the book to discover the flaw in the arrangement. While her blindness is believable (she is, after all, just 13), her slow awakening dominates the narrative—at the expense of richer themes Prose introduces but then leaves unexplored." Leah Hager Cohen

Critical Summary

Fans of Francine Prose’s biting satires may find themselves in unfamiliar territory at first, but Goldengrove will generously reward their efforts as they adapt to Prose’s new style. A poignant coming-of-age story as well as a subtle and thoughtful exploration of grief, Prose’s novel brings to light the fragile connections between characters under terrible emotional stress and their hesitant first steps toward healing while sidestepping clichés and sentimentality. Nico narrates the novel as an adult, but though she maintains a "charming, wry knowingness" (Wall Street Journal), she adeptly captures the moods and storms of adolescence. The New York Times Book Review described the plot as predictable, but most critics were quick to praise the vivid writing and powerful, compelling imagery in Prose’s "best book yet" (Seattle Times).