The False Friend
Celia Durst's relationship with her long-time boyfriend is slowly and quietly falling apart. But the more immediate crisis she faces is the resurfacing of long-buried memories of the loss of her childhood friend, Djuna Pearson. A random car in traffic reminds Celia of the moment she saw Djuna fall into a hole in the woods, never to be seen again. With a shocking pain and heaviness, she realizes her best friend is dead and decides to head home to New York State to reveal to her family and old friends what she saw that day two decades ago.
"Goldberg's prose is quick, and her characters are emotionally complicated."
THE FALSE FRIEND by Myla Goldberg follows Celia from Chicago to New York as she rushes to confront the trauma that she now realizes was a defining moment in her life. It happened one day after school as Djuna and Celia, along with three other friends, were walking home along Ripley Road. Djuna and Celia were fighting, which was nothing new, and Djuna dashed in to the woods along the road. Celia followed her only to see her drop into a hole and not resurface. She then returned to her friends, told them Djuna got into a stranger's car, and they all went off to Djuna's house to break the news.
20 years later, when Celia returns to her hometown, though, things don't go as she expects. Her parents are emotionally distant on the subject (mirroring the emotional distance of her boyfriend, Huck). And as she seeks out the other three girls who were present that day, she finds their memories of Djuna's disappearance are very different from her own. Josie, an artist, has captured the day on canvas, but the symbols she uses to tell the story strike Celia as odd. Becky, now an orthodox Jew, is kind but reminds her of the cruelty Celia and Djuna visited on Leanne. Leanne remains elusive until a charged meeting threatens to destroy Celia's account of that terrible day and her very self-image. Finally, Celia meets with Djuna's mother, a woman she long admired, and finds that it may be impossible to hold on to the story she constructed of Djuna's disappearance.
Is it possible that Celia remembers the events wrong? Or are those connected to Djuna unwilling to accept the truth she is offering them? In the end, Celia must take responsibility for her actions and her memories, but perhaps not in the way she was originally prepared to. And all the while, she has to deal with her relationship with Huck, her aging parents, and her younger brother, who has suffered his own trauma.
Goldberg's prose is quick, and her characters are emotionally complicated. This is a short novel but examines Celia's memories, those true and those inaccurate, in powerful detail. It is about family and partnership on one level and about identity and memory on another. It explores bullying from several perspectives without ever being preachy or prescriptive. Readers may find that Goldberg doesn’t always go quite far enough in her explorations of familial or romantic dynamics and the causes and consequences of bullying and toxic friendships, or that her cerebral style is sometimes a bit clunky. But THE FALSE FRIEND remains an interesting and thoughtful read.
Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on January 21, 2011
The False Friend
- Publication Date: August 23, 2011
- Genres: Fiction
- Paperback: 272 pages
- Publisher: Anchor
- ISBN-10: 0307390705
- ISBN-13: 9780307390707