Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The False Friend

Over dinner recently, some friends and I had a conversation about the horror that was junior high.  The consensus among both the men and women of the group was that girls in junior high have a harder time, in part because the boys are very clear where they fit in the social order while girls are constantly struggling to figure out where they are relative to others.  It was a particularly interesting conversation given that I had just finished Myla Goldberg's new book The False Friend, a book less about the vagaries of daily life in junior high than about the repercussions of those interpersonal dynamics decades later. 

32-year-old Celia maintains the same detachment in her personal relationships as she does as as an auditor for the state of Illinois.  When resurfaced memories of her past begin to surround her, Celia is compelled to travel home to upstate New York to share with her reserved family the secret she has been hiding for years: she watched her best friend Djuna fall down a hole in the forest, but told everyone the friend got into a stranger's car.  This seemingly straightforward, if disturbing, plot meanders as it is uncovered that Celia and Djuna had been the "mean girl" ringleaders of a group of middle-school acolytes, who were present at the periphery on the day in question.  Nobody, from Celia's family to the other girls involved believe her new account of the events, but force her to confront her perspective on her middle-school relationships.  What's left unwritten is the impact of Celia's newfound desire for a clear conscience on the people around her. 

Goldberg's writing is elegant and evocative.  If you like books that are told linearly with a clear conclusion, this probably isn't for you.  However, the ambiguities of the characters, the events of 20 years ago, and the resolution would make this a great book for a discussion group.

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