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Wickett's Remedy: A Novel
by Myla Goldberg

Published: 2006-10-10
Paperback : 384 pages
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Lydia Kilkenny is eager to move beyond her South Boston childhood, and when she marries Henry Wickett, a shy Boston Brahmin who plans to become a doctor, her future seems assured. That path changes when Henry abandons his medical studies and enlists Lydia to help him invent a mail-order ...
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Introduction

Lydia Kilkenny is eager to move beyond her South Boston childhood, and when she marries Henry Wickett, a shy Boston Brahmin who plans to become a doctor, her future seems assured. That path changes when Henry abandons his medical studies and enlists Lydia to help him invent a mail-order medicine called Wickett’s Remedy. Then the 1918 influenza epidemic sweeps through Boston, and in a world turned upside down Lydia must forge her own path through the tragedy unfolding around her. As she secures work as a nurse at a curious island medical station conducting human research into the disease, Henry’s former business partner steals the formula for Wickett’s Remedy to create for himself a new future, trying—and almost succeeding—to erase the past he is leaving behind.

Alive with narrative ingenuity, and tinged with humor as well as sorrow, this inspired recreation of a forgotten era powerfully reminds us how much individual voices matter—in history and in life.

Editorial 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

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by CathUnit (see profile) 04/08/15

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