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Wickett's Remedy by Myla Goldberg

Wickett's Remedy (2005)

by Myla Goldberg

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6062925,844 (3.39)38
Lydia is an Irish American shopgirl with bigger aspirations than your average young woman from South Boston in the early part of the twentieth century. 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. 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.… (more)



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This novel tells the story of Lydia, who longs to experience more of the world than the Southie neighborhood of Boston. She gets a job in a department store across the river, where she eventually meets and marries Henry Wickett, an odd man who has an idea of how to cure people. And so Wickett's Remedy is born.

[Wickett's Remedy] is a novel about the Spanish influenza epidemic that hit the United States during the First World War, and about a young woman who is determined to do what she can to help care for influenza patients despite her lack of medical training. Lydia is a fantastic character to follow as she works to adapt to whatever circumstances she finds herself in and the story is superbly researched. Goldberg also plays with the format of the novel, adding sidenotes where various characters comment on the events taking place, as well as articles, vignettes and even a secondary storyline taking place at the end of each chapter. Goldberg's writing is very good and the way she plays with structure fits well with the novel as a whole. I look forward to reading more by her. ( )
1 vote RidgewayGirl | Jun 10, 2019 |
I was intrigued by this book with its comments in the margins, and I'd enjoyed the author' first novel. Unlike some of the other LT reviewers, I was not disappointed.

The is the story of Lydia Kilkenny who wants to escape her South Boston neighbourhood. She does this by getting a job across the bridge and by marrying Henry Wickett, who is in medical school. After some time mourning Henry's untimely death, Lydia becomes compelled by helping those who are suffering from the Spanish Influenza and wants to become a nurse. She ends up working as a nurse's aide. The main narrative arc is this story of the devastating impact of the Spanish Influenza.

In a parallel story line, Henry had developed "Wickett's Remedy" -- basically flavoured water; the real cure was in the long, personal letters Henry would write to each customer. As Henry says: "How much illness is caused by loneliness? By lack of sympathy?" Upon Henry's death, his business partner cheats Lydia out of her share of the profits he makes from her flavoured water.

The author shows how perceptions matter, and how imperfect memory is, by having a sort of "Greek chorus" of voices from the dead who were present at key moments in the main narratives.

It's a bit quirky, but it works. I wish the story about the flavoured water was as well developed at that of the Spanish Influenza -- I thought an opportunity to bring them together had been missed. In spite of that, I liked the book and the excellent writing. ( )
  LynnB | Oct 24, 2018 |
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 |
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