NABOKV-L post 0011974, Sat, 24 Sep 2005 11:31:19 -0700

Fwd: Goldberg cites Nabokov's Pale Fire as a major influence ...
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Date: Sat, 24 Sep 2005 11:18:03 -0400
From: "Sandy P. Klein" <>
Subject: Goldberg cites Nabokov's Pale Fire as a major influence ...[2]




Saturday, September 24, 2005 Page R3

* E-mail Simon Houpt

NEW YORK -- The author Myla Goldberg calls herself a "disease nerd,"
but that's a too-modest appraisal of her nerdy qualities; if they
handed out a General Nerd award, she'd win in a gawky walk.

For Goldberg plays the accordion and the banjo: She's a music nerd!
She's uncomfortable posing for photographs: She's a publicity nerd!
She's a fast and well-read conversationalist: She's an intellectual
nerd! She wears dark-blue knee socks in the late summer: She's a
fashion nerd! And oh, listen to how her inner punctuation nerd starts
breathing heavily over a casual lunch as she recalls the extensive
reading of early 20-century writers she did while preparing to write
her new novel, _Wickett's Remedy_. "Just going back and seeing the
lovely way they use em dashes and semicolons. I mean, the semicolon!
The colon!" She swoons at the thought of those vertical dots.

Pointing out her widespread nerdiness would not, one thinks, likely
bother Goldberg, who reads tomorrow in Toronto. To begin, there's her
first novel, _Bee Season_, published in 2000, which was a wild
critical and commercial success and is about to find new life next
month when a film adaptation starring Richard Gere and Juliette
Binoche opens across North America. Then there's the fact that, at 33
and the mother of an almost-two-year-old daughter, Goldberg is no
longer in the phase of life where being labelled a nerd has much

Finally, nerdiness is a sort of badge. For though she has
contributed to McSweeney's and is occasionally grouped in with the
other Brooklyn writers she hangs out with -- Jonathan Lethem and
Colson Whitehead, for starters -- Goldberg doesn't think of herself
as part of the famously surging Brooklyn literary scene, indeed
doesn't like to think of herself as belonging to any particular
group. "I've always thought of myself as the reject and the outsider
who really isn't a part of any group, because I'm not cool enough for
any group," she says, wielding chopsticks askew in a Korea Town
dumpling shop. At the moment, she is on a brief break from a demo
mixing session with her new band, The Walking Hellos, a group that
consists of Goldberg and three other women playing what she calls,

In _Bee Season_, Goldberg brought us a reject and outsider, a Grade
5 student named Eliza who had been consigned to academic mediocrity
until she suddenly, astonishingly, began winning spelling bees.
_Wickett's Remedy_ brings us another outsider, a young woman from
working-class South Boston in 1918 named Lydia Kilkenny who aspires
to something greater in life. Crossing the Charles River to marry
uncomfortably out of her class, she winds up back in Southie an
irrevocably altered woman who no longer fits in with her neighbours
and old friends. When the Spanish flu decimates the city, Lydia
volunteers to assist a scientific study of the virus at an old
immigrant way station in Boston Harbor, where her lack of medical
training makes her, once again, an ill fit.

_Wickett's Remedy_ allows Goldberg to take both her disease and
punctuation nerds out for a nice long perambulation, for she has
written it in a style that would be at home in the early part of the
20th century. To nail that approach, and to make sure she wasn't
merely aping the style, she read scores of books written in the
period, including novels by Theodore Dreiser, Sherwood Anderson,
Willa Cather and a little-known author by the name of John Dos
Passos, whose _USA Trilogy_, says Goldberg, prefigured the narrative
experiments of William S. Burroughs and William Faulkner.

"I knew I wanted to write a book as humanly different as possible
from _Bee Season_," she says. "That was very important to me,
primarily because most of the writers I admire are always trying to
push themselves in new ways and always trying to tackle something
different, but also because I've got this theory of creativity, which
is that if I don't push myself now, when my brain is still relatively
plastic, 30 years from now, when I'm all calcified, I'm gonna be
really screwed. The larger toolbox that I have to work with, the more
I'm going to be capable of doing."

While working on _Wickett's Remedy_, Goldberg tried to avoid reading
anything written after 1945. That particular restriction proved more
limiting than she might have imagined when she began since, in
contrast to _Bee Season_, which took about two years of part-time
writing, _Wickett's Remedy_ took a painfully long five years of
full-time research and writing to complete. "This book kicked my ass
in a major way," she sighs.

Goldberg began the project in 1999 after reading a New York Times
article listing the five worst epidemics of all time and came upon a
reference to the Spanish flu. Being a disease nerd, she was
immediately attracted. "I was a morbid kid, I'm a morbid adult," she
notes. "What makes us fail as humans, and things that are out of our
control, kind of fascinate me."

At the same time, though, she was shocked to realize she'd never
heard of the Spanish flu, which killed more than 20-million people
around the world. "There's been a spate of non-fiction books that
have come out, but it hasn't been addressed terribly much in fiction,
and people don't have it as a part of their general consciousness when
they think of the history of the country, or the world," she explains.
"But every family who was in the United States at the time, if you ask
them, they'll say, 'Oh, yea, my grandmother had the flu,' or, 'Her
best friend died of it.'

"Everyone has that, but it's been effaced, and so that for me was
really one of the centres as I was writing. I wanted to address how
we forget things, how we replace facts with interpretation, how
cities change."

"I realized what had grabbed me [about the story of the epidemic]
was really what I wanted to address in the whole book: the frailty of
memory, both individual and collective."

To that end, Goldberg gives us a parallel narrative, set in the
early 1990s, about the origin of a fictional soft drink called QD
Soda, which had its heyday in the 1940s and 1950s. The creation myth
of the drink holds that it was invented by one Quentin Driscoll, a
fresh-faced, all-American local entrepreneur; in fact, as we come to
realize, the recipe for the soda was devised by Lydia Kilkenny, who
was promised a share of the profits and then forgotten by Driscoll as
the drink's fortunes soared.

There are other strands to the stories, too. Goldberg includes
snippets of newspaper articles written during the First World War and
the 1918 epidemic that offer indelible insight into that peculiar
time. (One especially piquant report notes that a Boston woman had
torn up her prized garden after realizing that her prized blue
bachelor's buttons were, "the official flower of Germany." Goldberg
cites Nabokov's _Pale Fire_ as a major influence, with its
annotations and competing narratives. So on the margins of the pages
in _Wickett's Remedy_, she layers in a heavenly chorus provided by
the deceased, who correct and annotate the main narratives. Book
reviewers have found this to be both an enriching and, occasionally,
distracting technique.

"That's the sacrifice made," she says. "I did try to pace the
intrusions, to respect the parts of the story where you did really
need to feel the resonance. But since for me the whole point is about
memory and the faultiness of it, the interruptions are necessary. You
know, grandma's in the middle of telling a story, and then grandpa
says, 'No, no no, he was wearing the blue shirt!' That was really
important to me." She shrugs, knowing there's nothing she can do
about it now: The book's out, and besides, it's getting strong
reviews. Not that she really cares what other people think.

_Myla Goldberg reads tomorrow at 10 a.m. at a Books & Brunch event
at the King Edward Hotel (416-777-2665)_ [4][5]


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