Wickett’s Remedy by Myla Goldberg
Fiction (historical); 326 pgs
First Sentence: On D Street there was no need for alarm clocks: the drays, ever punctual, were an army storming the gates of sleep.
Where Book Came From: My husband gave me the book as a Christmas gift in 2005.
Reason for Reading: Wickett’s Remedy is my third selection for the 2007 TBR Challenge.
From the Publisher: Wickett's Remedy is an epic but intimate novel about a young Irish-American woman facing down tragedy during the Great Flu epidemic of 1918.
Wickett's Remedy leads us back to Boston in the early part of the 20th century and into the world of Lydia, an Irish-American shop girl yearning for a grander world than the cramped confines of 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. Soon after their wedding, however, Henry shocks Lydia by quitting medical school and creating a mail-order patent medicine called Wickett's Remedy. And then just as the enterprise is getting off the ground, the Spanish Influenza epidemic of 1918 begins its deadly sweep across the world, drastically 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, we follow the fate of Henry's beloved Wickett's Remedy as his one-time business partner steals the recipe and transforms it into QD Soda, a wildly popular soft drink.
Comments: In 1918 America joined the war in Europe while an epidemic of the Spanish Influenza spread throughout the United States and eventually other parts of the world. Over twenty million people worldwide are believed to have died as a result of the illness. Hospitals were overflowing and doctors and nurses were in short supply. Scientists and medical professionals were perplexed the exact cause of the illness and reasons why it was spreading so rapidly. Attempts to find the answers were made through human experiments, one of which involved testing on American war criminal volunteers on Gallups Island (now named Gallops Island). This type of testing raised all sorts of ethical questions, including for Lydia who at first did not fully understand what she was getting herself into.
Lydia’s inner strength and quiet determination followed her throughout her life. Wickett’s Remedy is her story as well as the story of the eventual fate of the title’s namesake, the actual remedy.
The author uses an interesting technique in telling the two stories: one through narration, following the life of Lydia, and the other through letters and brochures of sorts that offer a glimpse into the fate of Wickett's Remedy itself. The latter comes almost as afterthoughts at the end of each chapter. Occasionally there are entire conversations between unknown characters at the end of chapters, whose purpose becomes clearer as the story unfolds. There is also the occasional newspaper editorial about the Spanish Influenza.
Myla Goldberg finds a balance between the serious and the comedic in her novel, taking a difficult subject and making it easy for readers to digest. It took a short while before the novel really took off, and at first I was confused about the time period shifts in the two stories.
Wickett’s Remedy is quite different in style and story from the author’s first novel, Bee Season, which I read a year and a half ago. However, it is interesting to note that in reviewing my journal entry for Bee Season written so long ago, I find that my general impressions of the books are quite similar: the slow start, the pieces of the story coming together and winning me over, and the questions that remained in the end. I did enjoy Wickett’s Remedy overall.
Favorite Part: I was afraid I would skip over the margin notes (the voices of the dead), and in fact did a couple of times, however, they were perhaps among my favorite part of the story. They added personality to the book and at times comic relief.
Several scenes come to mind when I think of my favorites: Lydia volunteering at the hospital, the interview with Mr. Cory, the hallway discussion with Percy Cole, and the late night encounter on the island.
Character wise, I was quite fond of Lydia’s oldest brother, Mick, and Lydia herself, who proved to a courageous and generous woman. She wasn’t an aggressive person, however pursued what she wanted in a quiet sort of way, which somehow made her seem vulnerable and yet strong. She is someone I would not mind having as a friend if she were a real person.
Note about the Author: The author, Myla Goldberg, is not only a published author, but also a musician. She plays the banjo and the accordion in the band The Walking Hellos.
Miscellaneous: Anjin and I finally are all caught up with the tv show Heroes. That last episode before the break is a doozy! I hate that I have to wait until near the end of April to see what happens next.
We have three movies waiting to be watched from Netflix: Babel, Mrs. Henderson Presents and Flags of Our Fathers. I am not sure when we will get to them as neither of us seems to be in a movie watching mood these days.