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The False Friend Hardcover – October 5, 2010


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Goldberg's unremarkable latest, a neatly constructed if hollow story of memory and deception, begins in the woods surrounding a small upstate New York town, as 11-year-old Celia watches her best friend, Djuna, get into a stranger's car, never to be seen again. At least that's the story Celia gives to the police. Twenty-one years later, Celia returns to her hometown to tell her family and old friends what really happened that fateful day, but her new version of the disappearance is met with disbelief by family and old friends. Meanwhile, Celia's image of her childhood identity is shattered as she listens to descriptions of herself as a child: she was sweet to some, cruel and bullying to others. Goldberg successfully evokes the shades of gray that constitute truth and memory, but her tendency toward self-conscious writerliness and grand pronouncements ("The unadult mind is immune to logic or foresight, unschooled by consequence, and endowed with a biblical sense of justice") prevents the narrative from breaking through its muted tones. Goldberg misplays the setup, trading psychological suspense for a routine story of self-discovery.
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From Booklist

Celia Durst decides, after 20 years, to come clean. At the age of 10, she was responsible for the disappearance of her unpredictable best friend, Djuna. Traipsing with their girlhood clique through an unfamiliar forest, only Celia saw Djuna fall into a hole in the ground, but hot-headed from the fight the two were having, she decided to tell everyone that Djuna was picked up by a stranger. Now thirtysomething and successful, Celia leaves Chicago to replant herself in her childhood home and confess to her family and the other girls involved. It turns into an agonizing process, however, when no one believes Celia’s “new” story—especially not the other three girls, who all claim to have seen the car Djuna got into. Newly obsessed with knowing what she was like as a child, Celia spends the bulk of the novel imploring her 10-year-old self to manifest at her side, but she first must realize what the younger Celia lost that day in the forest. Readers are kept guessing until the final pages and, as in Bee Season (2000), Goldberg uses beautiful, emotionally descriptive language to keep us with one ear to the ground, listening for the slow, quiet footsteps of creeping tragedy. --Annie Bostrom
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; First Edition edition (October 5, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385527217
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385527217
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,389,518 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

2.9 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Barbara J. King on October 9, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I'm going to disagree with the reviews so far posted. Myla Goldberg's newest novel lived up to all my ocnsiderable expectations after her fabulous 'Bee Season'; 'The False Friend' invited me into a world that wavers between the remembered past and the lived present with subtlety and great perception. I do understand why it's tempting to use the term 'confusing' regarding the time-skipping plot, but I found that when I slowed down my reading, refusing to rush along at a clip meant for a thriller and instead took the time to linger and let the sentences seep into my consciousness, much came to the fore.

Celia's return to her past-its-glory-days hometown is described with aching insight-- the ways that our adult selves telescope back into our adolescent selves when we return to visit our parents is the best treatment of this topic I've read. The alternating extreme tenderness and seething frustration one may feel for loved ones comes across gorgeously in the dropped gaze, the sighing acquiescence to family tradition, the lost moment when one can't quite come out with what one needs to say.

As for the central event-- the central memory that drives the plot, the thing that happened when Celia was 11 and transforming from a good girl into not such a good girl under the influence of her new friend Djuna-- it is told in overlapping memories from a number of central characters. Slowly, bit by bit, things become fuller and clearer as we read along, and in the end, the wrap-up is a great mix of clarity (the central mystery is, it seems to me, solved) and open-ended room for readers' imagining of the characters' mindsets and next steps in their lives. Very highly recommended and I hope Ms. Goldberg keeps writing novels! [...]
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Bonnie Brody TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 5, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Celia Durst and Djuna Pearson are best friends in middle school and have been queens of their clique since elementary school. They have a very tight, mercurial and labile relationship but they usually get over their fights very quickly. One day, as they are acting out by walking in a wooded area where they aren't supposed to go, Djuna and Celia have a fight. Celia walks away from Djuna and moments later Djuna is abducted by a man in a brown car. Three of the other girls from their clique are there and witness this event. Djuna is never seen or heard from again despite extensive police investigation. Celia can never remember the details of the event until she becomes an adult and then her memory of what actually happened is very different from what allegedly transpired.

The False Friend by Myla Goldberg opens twenty years after Djuna's disappearance. Celia is an auditor for the city of Chicago and has been living with Huck, a history teacher, since right after college. Her relationship with Huck is in stasis and Celia is worried that he will leave her. Huck wants children and Celia is not up for parenting. Celia suddenly has a recovered memory about Djuna's disappearance. She remembers walking with Djuna, the two of them having a fight, and then Djuna falling into a hole (like an abandoned well) while Celia just walks away and leaves her there, never telling anyone. Celia decides to fly back east to upstate New York where she grew up to do some reality-testing. She wants to tell her parents about her memories and talk to the other girls who were there that day.

This book is as much about the relationships of ten and eleven year old girls as it is about Djuna's disappearance. Ms.
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24 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Someone Like You on November 9, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I wouldn't pay full freight for this book. Buy it used or get it at the library. The author is clearly a skilled wordsmith but in the end all those nice, funny, quirky sentences don't add up to anything. There must three similies per page plus hundreds of metaphors and in the end the narrative collapses under their weight. So much time is spent evoking the childhood home, the cars, the pictures, the smells, the meals, the parents, the brother, the block, the school, the friend's houses, etc., etc., etc., that very little actually happens. This might be ok if something was Revealed but in fact very little is revealed either about the missing girl or the protagonist. Memory is illusive. Ok, but who doesn't know that? Faulkner said it eighty years ago: Memory believes before knowing remembers. That's pretty much the thesis of the book. I agree with other reviewers: more time spent on implications of bullying or more substance to the mystery might have yieled a much, much better book. Instead, it was very rote: she goes home, she conducts interviews, boyfriend visits, she interviews most important subject last, book ends. It all felt very formulaic to me but lacked the punch writers use formulas to achieve, namely a knockout surprise ending.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Bookreporter on October 13, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Celia Durst's relationship with her long-time boyfriend is slowly and quietly falling apart. But the more immediate crisis she faces is the resurfacing of long-buried memories of the loss of her childhood friend, Djuna Pearson. A random car in traffic reminds Celia of the moment she saw Djuna fall into a hole in the woods, never to be seen again. With a shocking pain and heaviness, she realizes her best friend is dead and decides to head home to New York State to reveal to her family and old friends what she saw that day two decades ago.

THE FALSE FRIEND by Myla Goldberg follows Celia from Chicago to New York as she rushes to confront the trauma that she now realizes was a defining moment in her life. It happened one day after school as Djuna and Celia, along with three other friends, were walking home along Ripley Road. Djuna and Celia were fighting, which was nothing new, and Djuna dashed in to the woods along the road. Celia followed her only to see her drop into a hole and not resurface. She then returned to her friends, told them Djuna got into a stranger's car, and they all went off to Djuna's house to break the news.

Twenty years later, when Celia returns to her hometown, though, things don't go as she expects. Her parents are emotionally distant on the subject (mirroring the emotional distance of her boyfriend, Huck). And as she seeks out the other three girls who were present that day, she finds their memories of Djuna's disappearance are very different from her own. Josie, an artist, has captured the day on canvas, but the symbols she uses to tell the story strike Celia as odd. Becky, now an orthodox Jew, is kind but reminds her of the cruelty Celia and Djuna visited on Leanne.
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