I should begin this post by stating clearly that I am a huge Myla Goldberg fan. Bee Season remains one of my favorite books of all time and in spite of the fact that I didn’t really get her next effort (Wickett’s Remedy), I was optimistic about her latest, The False Friend. Based on the descriptions I could find, I was expecting to find that she had abandoned the historical fiction angle and had returned safely home to what I thought she did best, developing artfully articulate and introspective characters.
The author reads her own books for the audio versions and since I enjoy her voice and manner of reading, I downloaded The False Friend on audio from the library. While Bee Season is the story of a family with particular attention to middle-school girl, The False Friend is the story of a 30-something woman who returns to her hometown in order to deal with a traumatic event from her past. My first disappointment with this book came early when it became clear that the main character, the adult Celia, was no match for the twelve year old Eliza Neumann of Bee Season. Although the intimate awareness and understanding of the complexities of each character was evident in her first book, the characters in The False Friend, and Celia in particular, were disappointingly hollow and narrowly drawn.
While the characters left something to be desired, the most compelling part of the book was the subject matter itself. The story explored both the exclusivity and jealousy of childhood friendships between girls and the nature of memory, especially as it operates in high-stress situations. Celia was going back home to confront an event that had taken place almost 20 years in the past. As a part of that process, she meets with old friends who recall the situation much differently. While the issues tackled are interesting ones, the story lacked the emotional resonance that I had hoped for. I guess I’ll just have to re-read Bee Season.