three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
20-Jan-Feb-2006
user_rating: 
0

A Novel

A-WickettsRemedyLydia Kilkenny, an Irish-American working-class shopgirl in South Boston, rises above her humble beginnings to marry striving physician Henry Wickett. When she concocts an elixir called "Wickett’s Remedy," Henry drops out of med school to promote it. Goldberg’s second novel—after Bee Season (2000)—chronicles the changing fortunes of Lydia, her family, and her homemade recipe (which becomes the popular "QD Soda") during World War I. When her husband dies of the Spanish flu, Lydia returns to her epidemic-ridden family in South Boston, volunteers as a nurse’s aid at the local hospital, only to witness more suffering, and tries to carve for herself a happier future. Just as Lydia is surrounded by death, so is the text: the dead offer commentary on Lydia’s experiences in the margins of the book.
Doubleday. 336 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 0385513240

Orlando Sentinel 4 of 5 Stars
"For all its considerable charms, Wickett’s Remedy is oddly tension-deprived and maintains a certain detachment from the reader. These are not flaws, but a subtle, artful effect created by the novel’s narrator, a member of a Greek chorus of the dead who speak to us from the novel’s margins, offering from the pool of their own memories alternate versions of Lydia’s life—commentary that is by turns hilarious, argumentative, meddlesome and regretful." Susan Lynne Harkins

Houston Chronicle 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The first thing the reader notices about Wickett’s Remedy is that, five years in the making, this is a prodigiously researched book, one that pays scrupulous attention to the science of the time. … For all its merits, the novel lacks dramatic tension, the deaths all but e-mailed to us." Barbara Liss

Los Angeles Times 3 of 5 Stars
"Goldberg’s descriptions of a city under siege are often breathtaking, and her most fully realized character turns out not to be a person but the epidemic itself and the panic and dread that surrounded it. The all-pervasive presence takes on form and substance in a way that most of the people who populate Wickett’s Remedy never quite get the chance to do." Brigid Brett

San Francisco Chronicle 2.5 of 5 Stars
"With Wickett’s Remedy, Goldberg defies any critics who might have typecast her as a ‘Jewish writer’; clearly, Goldberg knows from other worlds. … The side plots don’t distract from the book (they make the book all the more fun), though the two major plotlines (the first about Lydia and Henry, the second about the flu epidemic) do seem to compete with each other, and in a sense detract from each other." Debra Spark

Washington Post 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Some of this [slew of historical documents] resolves into a mildly engaging subplot, but most of it—news clippings and public notices—just hangs there, dangling like unsightly threads of yarn that should have been knitted into the garment. The one marginal note that stayed with me long after I closed the book showed that this structure had potential that usually went unrealized." Geraldine Brooks

Miami Herald 2 of 5 Stars
"The conceit of using voices of the dead to interrupt from the margins is a cute device at first, funny in some places as they amplify parts of the story. … [T]he story of Gallups Island may stick with you for a while, but Liddie, poor flat, lifeless Liddie, won’t." Amy Canfield

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 2 of 5 Stars
"Wickett’s Remedy is itself a failed experiment, but it fails with style. … Without all the clutter, this is one powerful writer." Anne Jolis

Critical Summary

Critics expecting another Bee Season were disappointed; the more open-minded critics (or those wanting a good history of the 1918 epidemic) found great talent and originality in this sprawling, overstuffed book. The great point of debate centers on the newspaper articles, letters, and Greek chorus that interrupt to critique the accuracy of Lydia’s memories. While inventive, this technique at times overwhelms the storyline; ironically, some critics saw the dead voices as more alive than Lydia, despite her immense emotional suffering. But Goldberg did her research: her graphic descriptions of the flu and Lydia’s experience on Gallups Island are the book’s strongest scenes. Readers should forgive the strange pacing and schizophrenic voices and themes, however: Goldberg is a writer to watch.

Read Instead

Bee Season (2000): After fifth-grader Eliza Naumann takes first prize in a spelling bee, her religious father encourages her to examine ancient Jewish and Kabbalist texts—testing their already dysfunctional family.