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Wickett's Remedy: A Novel
ISBN 1400078121 / 9781400078127 / 1-4000-7812-1
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One day in her kitchen, Lydia Wickett devises a harmless, medicinal-tasting concoction that her enterprising husband bottles under the moniker "Wickettıs Remedy." Myla Goldberg's unconventional second novel, named for the potion, follows the (mis)fortunes of the loving Wicketts and the strange fate of their recipe as it is reincarnated by an unscrupulous businessman as the trendy "QD Soda." But there is nothing effervescent about Wickett's Remedy, a beautifully written but pessimistic follow-up to Goldberg's bestselling debut, Bee Season. Set mostly in working-class south Boston before and during the First World War, the novel is laden with illness and tragedy. Poor Lydia barely staggers onto her feet after her young husband's sudden death of pneumonia when her family is swirled into the Influenza epidemic of 1918--fascinatingly, horribly described by Goldberg. Death follows death, until Lydia, volunteering in the overwhelmed wards of the local hospital, discovers the profound intimacy of nursing: a "shared human undercurrent detectable only when the dictates of name, sex, and social standing were erased."
Lydia's experiences are annotated with marginal comments from the dead (literally marginal: the remarks are in a smaller type in the outside margins of the text). This "whispering undercurrent" rises into articulation when one of the dead feels an urge to comment on Lydia's memories. The statements of the dead can be funny or poignant (e.g. "Jefferson Carver, the Public Health Services first colored elevator operator and the carıs fourth occupant, has become resigned to his omission from the partial memories of his white passengers."), but most often correct fine points in the narrative or complain about slights and oversights. The dead have a "shared desire: that in an unguarded moment, Our whisperings will broach a living ear." Sadly, they don't have much more to contribute than the kind of cantankerous ego-babble we expect from the living.
Although this chorus of the dead is a brave innovation, it fails Wickettıs Remedy because the perspective of eternity lessens the force of Lydia's story. It would lessen anyone's story. It may be more realistic to view our sufferings and ambitions--our very personalities--as specks in a cosmic blur, but it puts a damper on our wilder emotions. --Regina Marler [via]