Friday, October 29, 2010

In the Attic with Myla Goldberg

Originally printed in the Washington Post Express

If there's one thing Facebook stalking old middle-school classmates can teach us, it's that people change. Reconnecting with those ghosts of friendships past can provide some insight into our former selves, which is what Celia Durst learns in Myla Goldberg's third novel, The False Friend.

"Part of what inspired me was that I remembered something very mean I had done in elementary school," Goldberg recalls. "I remember being the kid who was picked on all the time, but one time I threw a pair of scissors at my best friend at the time and scratched her on the leg. She didn't tell anyone and I blocked it out, but as an adult I remembered having done that."

Kids don't always turn into the adults you'd expect. "You have people you knew in high school, like the guy you're sure is going to be a Hollywood star but 10 years later he's a podiatrist," she says. "You never know what course we're going to take."

Goldberg's third novel follows Celia as she pieces together the disappearance of her best friend, Djuna, who vanished when they were 11. At the time, Celia told everyone that Djuna got into a stranger's car. Decades later, Celia remembers that Djuna fell into a hole — and she told no one. When she returns home to confess, no one — family, old friends who were there that day — believes her. Celia has a difficult time realizing that her memory may be fallible, something Goldberg says we all have to accept.

"I think, ultimately, we can never know ourselves and people we love can never know us," she says. "Memory is not this sacrosanct, golden thing, and if you talk to other people about your past you can figure out what memory's failure can teach you. Memory's failure is as good a way to learn about ourselves."

Goldberg's husband grew up in upstate New York, where she set the novel.

"The area fascinates me," she said. "It's a place of fallen empire, which ascended when the U.S. was making stuff and factories — cites and cultures sprang up around that. Now the U.S. doesn't make as much stuff, and the area is dead, depopulated and boarded up. It tied with my thinking about the people we are now versus what we were."

She also drew on her own childhood neighborhood in Laurel, Md.

"I attended high school in Greenbelt and I used it in the book," Goldberg says. "The great thing about fiction is that you can make a patchwork and draw from wherever you want."

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