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Wickett's Remedy: A Novel Hardcover – September 20, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

One day in her kitchen, Lydia Wickett devises a harmless, medicinal-tasting concoction that her enterprising husband bottles under the moniker "Wickett¹s 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 car¹s 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 Wickett¹s 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

From Publishers Weekly

The author of the bestselling Bee Season returns with an accomplished but peculiarly tensionless historical novel that follows the shifting fortunes of a young Irish-American woman. Raised in tough turn-of-the-century South Boston, Lydia Kilkenny works as a shopgirl at a fancy downtown department store, where she meets shy, hypochondriacal medical student Henry Wickett. After a brief courtship, the two marry (Henry down, Lydia decidedly up) in 1914. Henry quits school to promote his eponymous remedy, whose putative healing powers have less to do with the tasty brew that Lydia concocts than with the personal letters that Henry pens to each buyer. After failing to pass the army physical as the U.S. enters WWI, Henry quickly, dramatically dies of influenza, and Lydia returns to Southie, where she watches friends, neighbors and her beloved brother die in the 1918 epidemic. A flu study that employs human subjects is being conducted on Boston Harbor's Gallups Island; lonely Lydia signs on as a nurse's assistant, and there finds a smidgen of hope and a chance at a happier future. A pastiche of other voices deepens her story: chapters close with snippets from contemporary newspapers, conversations among soldiers and documents revealing the surprising fate of Wickett's Remedy. And the dead offer margin commentary—by turns wistful, tender and corrective (and occasionally annoying). Yet as well-researched, polished and poignant as the book is, Goldberg never quite locks in her characters' mindsets, and sometimes seems adrift amid period detritus. While readers will admire Lydia, they may not feel they ever truly know her.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday (September 20, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385513240
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385513241
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,011,280 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Well written and so very descriptive.
carol e hughes
Although I found it interesting throughout, I have two main problems with the book: it has an irrelevant title and it lacks an ending.
Roger Brunyate
The ending is not satisfactory since too many storylines are left unfinished and the book just seems to stop.
Susan K. Schoonover

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By snowbat on October 25, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Wickett's rememedy is awkward and weird and perfect. It's ridiculous and sad and so very engaging. Another reviewer complained that the cosmic perspective of the novel dwarfed Lydia Wickett's experiences, and I think that's exactly right, and just as it should be. The novel isn't really about telling any particular person's story. The novel is much more about how life unfolds senselessly and uncontrollably; how very little is within our control. Stupid decisions work out well, painstaking decisions work terribly. But in the end, everyone ends up in the same place, and every experience is precious. It's deeper and more mature than Bee Season, in which every character was desperately trying to find some greater order in the universe, around which they could form their lives, and that greater order was strongly implied.
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41 of 49 people found the following review helpful By C. Hutton on September 23, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Myla Goldberg has written a charming, quirky and strange book (just look at the front cover). This is not a conventional novel but a creative one if the reader gives it a chance. The central event of the novel is the influenza pan-epidemic during World War I as seen through the eyes of a married couple in Boston and of the souls who have perished of the flu in 1918.

Ms. Goldberg stretches out her book to the 1990's by the device of following the strange corporate history of the husband's invention, Wickett's Remedy. While the story covers a lot of ground (there is a sub-plot involving unethical medical testing by the US Government), the characters, even as they die off, are compelling. In a book about death, this wonderful novel reaffirms life in its own fashion. For further historical background, the reader is referred to John Barry's "The Great Influenza" which tells how 20 million persons worldwide perished from this deadly virus.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Gwen A Orel on April 22, 2006
Format: Hardcover
There is absolutely no doubt that Goldberg is a masterful prose writer. Bee Season was not a fluke, and she demonstrates that she's more than capable of getting inside the heads of disparate characters-- not just Jewish characters from this century and people who might be like her, but people separate from her in time and ethnicity. Whether or not you end up loving this novel's plot, her sentences and descriptions are really gorgeous.

This time she writes about Lydia Kilkenny, an Irish girl from Boston's South End at the turn of the century, who becomes a shop girl at Gilchrist's in a swankier part of town, is courted by and marries Henry Wickett, a shy medical student who quits to sell "Wickett's Remedy." Henry dies of illness, and Lydia becomes a nurse during the influenza epidemic of 1918, taking part in a failed experiment on Gallup's island. Meanwhile, her husband's "business partner" has taken the original remedy and turned it into a bestselling soda, and we see letters from Lydia in the twenties trying to get some money owed her out of Driscoll, as well as Driscoll's letters to his dead wife and son, and various press releases and newsletters from QD soda which seems to be a sort of cult (I've been to the coke museum in Atlanta and it doesn't seem that even coke has the same weird culture Goldberg imagines for QD soda). Documents from 1993 describe a jubilee, and Driscoll's confession that a dead woman invented the soda (but a newsletter suggests this was treated as a joke, though not clearly by his adopted son who according to dcouments from the nursing home has since neglected Driscoll's care).

Lydia's story also has marginalia from the whisperings of dead people commenting and contradicting on the narrative. I loved that.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Jason Fisher on December 22, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Wickett's Remedy represents an idea that had a lot of potential but which never fully evolved into the novel it might have been. I have to give Goldberg credit for attempting some very ambitious narrative techniques (the marginal voices of the dead, the epistolary interludes from the present, while most of the novel proper takes place in the past), but they never fully mesh, and consequently, they feel more like a gimmick than a groundbreaking new narrative style.

For me, the novel proper (following the story of Lydia and the 1918 influenza epidemic) was FAR more interesting than the present-day story of how Wickett's Remedy was stolen and developed into a successful soda product. And the marginal voices of the dead were just that -- marginal. I never could make up my mind what I thought of that, which in itself is probably a sign that whatever Goldberg intended was never completely successful. At least, for me.

I understand that Ms. Goldberg substantially rewrote the novel for the paperback edition -- a rather daring choice -- but I can't speak to that edition. My comments pertain to the original hardcover. And for my money, it's nowhere close to her first novel, Bee Season, which I absolutely loved! Wicket's Remedy was interesting, but it never quite came together, and I never felt fully invested in the outcome of the story. A pity.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By B. Capossere TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 10, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Wickett's Remedy is the kind of novel you feel awful giving a bad review to. It's a risky novel for Goldberg in many ways, and one wants to give her lots of credit for the chances she takes--moving away from the family study of her oh-so-popular first book, using marginal snippets of narration from a chorus of the dead, interspersing the story's main narrative with newspaper clippings, letters, brief conversations, and promotional chitchat. But in the end, the risks proved too much and the novel fails, the parts never creating a compelling sum.

Wickett's follows Lydia Kilkenney, a young woman of "Southy" who in 1914 marries up in society via Harry Wickett, a shy, sickly medical student who meets her at her salesclerk job then wins her over through his passionate love letters. Soon after their wedding, Harry decides to drop out of med school and create Wickett's Remedy, whose medicine would not be in the good-tasting liquid Lydia creates, but in the letters he sends along with the tonic. Eventually, the business and their lives are interrupted by war and pandemic and Lydia must deal with first Harry's death, then others' deaths equally close to her. In this she finds her new calling--becoming a volunteer nurse, first at the local hospital, then by chance (actually mostly by default) at an experimental flu study (using criminals--deserters--as voluntary human subjects) on nearby Gallups Island. Her story is paralleled by the history of QD Soda, the soda Wickett's Remedy eventually was turned into by an unscrupulous businessman who had become Harry's partner just before his death. This parallel plot unfolds through a variety of narratives--letters, promotional pitches, etc.
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