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Wickett's Remedy by Myla Goldberg

Wickett's Remedy (2005)

by Myla Goldberg

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Lydia, a young Irish girl living in South Boston right before World War I, is looking for a way out, and seems to find it in marriage to Henry Wickett. Together, they concoct a patent medicine to sell by mail, along with a personal note from Henry. But when Henry dies, a young pharmacist steals the recipe and turns it into a best-selling soft drink.
Meanwhile, Lydia and her family deal with the war and with the flu epidemic of 1918. Feeling at loose ends, she ends up working as a nurse on a island of experiments that are trying to understand the transmission of the flu, using human subjects.
It is a little disjointed, in that each chapter ends with a newspaper article, current information about "QD Soda," and side conversations pertaining to the chapter, and there are notes in the margin of each page that act as a "chorus of the dead." These take some getting used to, but overall, it was a good book and I enjoyed it. ( )
  tloeffler | Jul 14, 2014 |
This book spent many a night on my bedside table. Not because it was an epically long book, it was quite short actually; but because I just couldn't immerse myself into it. It seemed distant and shallow, almost ethereal. It was like only half the story was being told but yet there were so many things going on. I found it hard to keep my interest in it.

First of all there was the main storyline about the flu epidemic that the main character, Lydia, was experiencing. After each chapter from Lydia's point of view, there were newspaper articles regarding the epidemic, then disembodied voices. I assume these voices were people she overheard or something. Then there was the story of a stolen recipe told in letters and more articles. Throughout the main storyline there were marginal notes seemingly from heaven.

Overall, it was interesting, but strangely done. ( )
  Ginerbia | Sep 30, 2013 |
I won't repeat the story, but the flu epidemic does make for an interesting background. The characters are believeable, the plot is fairly strong, the setting is well described, but yet it just lacks in places. It's almost as if the author was trying to tell two stories: one about the epidemic and the other about the stealing of the formula for Wickett's remedy which never really rings true. It's too bad because I feel that could have helped develop Lydia's character so much more.

It took me a while to get used to the marginal notes, but I did find them interesting. Shows that what one person sees could be quite different than what another sees. The other "additions" of newspaper articles, newsletters, etc. I found to be quite annoying at times.

Overall, it was a good read but sometimes more effort than it should have been. ( )
  maryreinert | Aug 17, 2013 |
From December 2005 School Library Journal:
It is 1918 and America is on the brink of entering Europe’s Great War. Lydia Kilkenny, a Boston shopgirl, is swept up in a hurried romance with Henry Wickett, a young medical student who soon after their marriage casts his studies aside in favor of developing a remedy to help rejuvenate people who suffer from “hypochondriacal illnesses.” His mail order business enjoys some success, but when he contracts influenza, Lydia is suddenly left a widow. Before she has time to grieve, the people of America find themselves battling a deadly pandemic of influenza. Although she has no nursing experience, Lydia feels compelled to help. She joins on as a research assistant to doctors who use inmates as subjects in experiments designed to better understand the spread of the disease. While Lydia is struggling to deal with the horrors of the outbreak, a parallel story develops as Quentin Driscoll, her husband’s one-time business partner, steals the formula for Wickett’s Remedy and turns it into a soft drink empire.
Goldberg’s recreation of this fascinating segment of American history is meticulously researched and well-executed. Each chapter ends with period newspaper articles and letters that add to the local flavor of the story and give subtle insights into unfolding events. The use of voices in the margins of the pages, however, serves more as a distraction than as an asset to the multiple stories that are woven together.
Goldberg’s closing comments are powerful in their simplicity: the fact that more Americans died in this ten-month pandemic than were killed in all of the twentieth-century wars will be eye-opening to readers. While she notes some of the books that she used in her research, a more detailed bibliography would be helpful to high school students and others interested in this period of our history.
( )
  KimJD | Apr 8, 2013 |
The best audio book I've ever read, and by far the best "read by the author" edition I've ever come across. The story itself is interesting, following a young lady through her early career as a sales clerk, young wife, and then discovering nursing during the influenza epidemic. The Wickett's Remedy aspect is more of a subplot. However, the way the Wickett's Remedy story is told is really unique and interesting. The audio makes this book so much more interesting than it would have been to read -- think of listening to a radio during the 40s, with different voices and background music, a variety of genres, and you have a glimpse as to how this book comes across aurally. That the author, and not a famous actor (though perhaps she is an actress), does all the accents and voices is wonderful. All, except the side commentary from the characters of the beyond -- another really unique and interesting feature of the book.
It all makes for a very entertaining listen, with a side of history that I haven't read much about (and therefore an added bonus!) ( )
  LDVoorberg | Apr 7, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0385513240, Hardcover)

One day in her kitchen, Lydia Wickett devises a harmless, medicinal-tasting concoction that her enterprising husband bottles under the moniker "Wickett¹s Remedy." Myla Goldberg's unconventional second novel, named for the potion, follows the (mis)fortunes of the loving Wicketts and the strange fate of their recipe as it is reincarnated by an unscrupulous businessman as the trendy "QD Soda." But there is nothing effervescent about Wickett's Remedy, a beautifully written but pessimistic follow-up to Goldberg's bestselling debut, Bee Season. Set mostly in working-class south Boston before and during the First World War, the novel is laden with illness and tragedy. Poor Lydia barely staggers onto her feet after her young husband's sudden death of pneumonia when her family is swirled into the Influenza epidemic of 1918--fascinatingly, horribly described by Goldberg. Death follows death, until Lydia, volunteering in the overwhelmed wards of the local hospital, discovers the profound intimacy of nursing: a "shared human undercurrent detectable only when the dictates of name, sex, and social standing were erased."

Lydia's experiences are annotated with marginal comments from the dead (literally marginal: the remarks are in a smaller type in the outside margins of the text). This "whispering undercurrent" rises into articulation when one of the dead feels an urge to comment on Lydia's memories. The statements of the dead can be funny or poignant (e.g. "Jefferson Carver, the Public Health Services first colored elevator operator and the car¹s fourth occupant, has become resigned to his omission from the partial memories of his white passengers."), but most often correct fine points in the narrative or complain about slights and oversights. The dead have a "shared desire: that in an unguarded moment, Our whisperings will broach a living ear." Sadly, they don't have much more to contribute than the kind of cantankerous ego-babble we expect from the living.

Although this chorus of the dead is a brave innovation, it fails Wickett¹s Remedy because the perspective of eternity lessens the force of Lydia's story. It would lessen anyone's story. It may be more realistic to view our sufferings and ambitions--our very personalities--as specks in a cosmic blur, but it puts a damper on our wilder emotions. --Regina Marler

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:22 -0400)

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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.… (more)

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