Summary and book reviews of Wickett's Remedy by Myla Goldberg

Wickett's Remedy

A Novel

by Myla Goldberg

Wickett's Remedy
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2005, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2006, 368 pages

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About this Book

Book Summary

Through narrative, authentic newspaper clippings, and fictional correspondence, the author of Bee Season offers an intimate view of the life of Lydia Kilkenny, a shop clerk and daughter of Irish immigrants in South Boston in the early 20th century.'

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 their lives.

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 epidemic—through 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.

Throughout the novel we hear from a chorus of other voices who offer a running commentary from the book's margins, playing off the ongoing narrative and cleverly illuminating the slippery interplay of perception and memory. Based on years of research and evoking actual events, Wickett's Remedy perfectly captures the texture of the times and brings a colorful cast of characters vividly to life—none more so than Lydia, a heroine as winning and appealing as Eliza, the beloved spelling champion of Bee Season.

With dazzling dexterity, Goldberg has fashioned a novel that beautifully combines the intimate and the epic. Wickett's Remedy announces her arrival as a major novelist.

On D Street there was no need for alarm clocks: the drays, ever punctual, were an army storming the gates of sleep. The wooden wagons were heavy and low-riding with loud rattling wheels, their broad planks too battered and begrimed to recall distant origins as trees. Each dray was pulled by horses--two, four, or sometimes six per wagon--pounding down nearby Third Street. Windows rattled and floors shook; the sound was a giant hand shaking Lydia Kilkenny 's sleeping shoulders. Each morning she did not awaken to the sound, but inside it. The sound of the drays came no matter what the season. In winter it came when the sky was still dark, the pounding hooves sharp reports against the frozen cobblestones. In summer, perhaps because the sky was already pale with light, the sound of the horses seemed kinder.

She knew the clattering wagons were bound for Boston proper, but...

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About this Book

Set in Boston in the early years of the twentieth century, Wickett's Remedy follows the shifting fortunes of Lydia Kilkenny, who dreams of rising above the limitations of Southie, the hardscrabble Irish working- class neighborhood where she was born.

When Lydia takes a job at Gilchrist's department store on Washington Street, she enters a glittering world that is just across the bridge from Southie, but worlds away, culturally. Here she meets the shy and refined Henry Wickett, a medical student from a Boston Brahmin family who falls in love with Lydia's vibrant enthusiasm. They marry, and Lydia's dreams of a more elegant and cultured life seem to be coming true. But then Henry announces that he's quit ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly

.... 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.

Booklist - Joanne Wilkinson

With its warm, involving story line and intrinsically interesting subject matter, this is sure to be popular with the book-club crowd.

Library Journal - Jyna Scheeren

Starred Review. An epic story that is sure to become a classic .. Like Bee Season, this sorrowful, humorous and tender novel utterly satisfies. Congratulations to Goldberg on another masterpiece.

Kirkus Reviews

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.

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Beyond the Book

Myla Goldberg is the author of the bestselling Bee Season; an essay collection, Time’s Magpie, which explores all her favorite places in Prague, where she lived for a year in the early nineties; and Wickett’s Remedy which grew out of her fascination with the 1918 influenza epidemic. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, cartoonist Jason Little,  and their daughter.

Did you know?

  • Despite the misleading name, the "Spanish Flu" epidemic of 1918-1919 was first identified in early March 1918 at a US military camp in Kansas; by October it had spread worldwide.  By the time it died out 18 months later it is estimated that 2.5-5% of the world's population had died and 20% had been effected.  ...

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