From the book jacket: In a
multidimensional, intricately wrought narrative, Myla Goldberg leads us
back to Boston in the early part of the twentieth century and into two
completely captivating worlds. One is that of Lydia, an Irish American
shopgirl with bigger aspirations than your average young woman from
South Boston. She seems to be well on her way to the life she has
dreamed of when she marries Henry Wickett, a shy medical student and the
scion of a Boston Brahmin family. However, soon after their wedding,
Henry abruptly quits medical school to create a mail-order patent
medicine called Wickett's Remedy, and just as Lydia begins to adjust
to her husband's new vocation, the infamous Spanish influenza epidemic
of 1918 begins its deadly sweep across the world, irrevocably changing
In a world turned almost unrecognizable by swift and sudden tragedy, Lydia finds herself working as a nurse in an experimental ward dedicated to understanding the raging epidemicthrough the use of human subjects. Meanwhile, a parallel narrative explores the world of QD Soda, the illegitimate offspring of Wickett's Remedy, stolen away by Henry Wickett's one-time business partner Quentin Driscoll, who goes about transforming it into a soft drink empire.
Comment: Usually the typesetting of the paperback edition is essentially the same as the hardcover edition. However, because of the unusual format of Wickett's Remedy (with side notes in the margins of many pages) the paperback version had to be re-typeset; this gave Goldberg the opportunity to substantially rewrite parts of her novel.
According to the author "The spirit of the book and its story remain unchanged, but certain threads are developed a little further. Scenes that had been implied in the hardcover edition are made explicit in the paperback; other scenes that had been curtailed are extended. The revised material deepens Lydias experience on Gallups Island, as well as her relationships with Percival Cole and Frank Bentley."
These changes are likely to have gone a long way to correcting some of the weak points that a few reviewers pointed out in the hardcover version. For example, Publishers Weekly wrote 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.
Both the author and her publicist deny that the changes were a tactic to sell more books, although her publicist does admit that it gives the book "a nice publicity hook". In a recent interview Goldberg said, "I feel terrible for hardcover readers. Theyre your most loyal readers, and here I am penalizing them. The last thing I want to do is make hardcover readers feel like suckers. Its not a gimmick to sell more books!" For more about the changes visit Goldberg's website, where you can download a PDF document of the edited sections.
"Starred Review. A rich historical re-creation whose energy and ingenuity evoke memories of EL Doctorow's classic Ragtime, Stephen Milhauser's Pulitzer Prize winner Martin Dressler and Thomas McMahon's forgotten picturesque mini masterpiece McKay's Bees A fine novel...and a quantum leap forward for the gifted Goldberg." - Kirkus Reviews (referring to the hardcover, so presumably the reviewer would like the paperback even more!)
This review was originally published in September 2005, and has been updated for the October 2006 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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