Monday, June 26, 2006

Wickett's Remedy by Myla Goldberg

Myla Goldberg is the author of The Bee Season, a book which many people loved, but which I did not enjoy (and did not finish). I did not realize this until I was part way into Wickett's Remedy, a book which I enjoyed VERY much. I might try The Bee Season again.

I started reading Wickett's Remedy because it said on the blurb that it is the story of Lydia, a young Irish woman in early twentieth century Boston, and her experiences marrying "above her station." I like historical fiction, immigrant stories, and stories about women and their experiences, so it appealed to me. However, I failed to read the entire blurb so I missed the part where it says it's also the story of how Lydia gets caught up in the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918; this I discovered only after I was well entrenched in the story.

As my family can attest, I'm a little bit worried about avian flu; I spend maybe a little bit too much time reading about it, and trying to figure out how to prepare for it. Another thing I worry about is high-fructose corn syrup. I am forever trying to ban it from our house. Thus our family joke is that Mom thinks that maybe you can get avian flu from high-fructose corn syrup. These are just two items on the long list of "things Mom worries too much about." Therefore, it may be that the last thing I needed was a novel that describes in fairly graphic detail the way in which you die from influenza, the societal effects of epidemic, and the grief suffered by those left behind.

This did occur to me part way through the book, but for some reason it didn't bother me. I really really enjoyed this book, despite the morbid part of the plot (which is by no means the whole story). Lydia is smart and resourceful, and attempts to both follow her heart and do her duty. Goldberg is a good writer, and uses several unique literary devices that add to the story: marginalia consisting of retrospective comments by dead characters, chapter appendices of real newspaper articles of the time, and odd little snippets of dialog among minor characters, chronicling action that takes place off stage. Another subplot unfolds the history of QD Soda, which started out as Wickett's Remedy, a patent medicine created by Lydia's late husband and his thieving business partner, and which Lydia tries to regain her interest in throughout her life. It all sounds more complex than it is. This book is a fast and enjoyable read.

(Book 28, 2006)


Anonymous said...

Beck, My great grandfather, your great-great grandfather , was the only doctor for three counties in rural Illinois during the flu epidemic in 1918. The other docs were in Europe. He did not lose one patient under his care. True story.

Becky Holmes said...

Laine, aren't you a generation off? Your grandfather, my great-grandfather.

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