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When she was 10 years old, Myla Goldberg threw a pair of scissors at her friend. It wasn’t her best moment.
A few years ago, more than two decades later, the author found herself remembering that incident, and still felt pretty bad about it, so during Yom Kippur, she looked up the friend to atone for her sin. Turns out, the friend didn’t remember it happening at all, but accepted the apology anyway.
“It was this great amnestic moment,” said Goldberg. “We all subconsciously edit our lives, and you never know what random thing might bring something back.”
It’s moments like that that helped inspire the latest novel from Goldberg, who catapulted to literary fame 10 years ago with her debut, “Bee Season.”
“The False Friend,” out this month on Doubleday, focuses on a successful woman living in Chicago who, after 20 years, returns to her hometown to confess the role she played in the disappearance of a childhood friend, an assumed victim of abduction. All her life, she’s lied about what really happened, blocking the traumatic memory, only to face the consequences of confronting her family, friends, and a past she had come to forget.
The result is a book that explores aging, the unreliability of memory, and the truths we accept or reject. It’s thematically linked to the childhood trauma and remorse of Stephen King’s “It” — without the blood, gore or clowns.
“We all used to be someone else in one way or another,” said Goldberg. “It’s a weird sort of feeling to go back to where you’re from and face who you were.”
This isn’t the first time Goldberg has put her memory in a time machine.
“Both in this novel and my previous, ‘Wickett’s Remedy,’ there is an interest in the fallibility of memory,” said Goldberg, whose previous novel was set during the influenza pandemic of 1918. (Don’t remember that bit of history? Exactly.)
Both novels are dramatic departures from her debut book, “Bee Season,” a seemingly simple story about a girl, a spelling bee and its catastrophic effects on her family that put Goldberg on the literary map (having Hollywood turn it into a movie wasn’t bad, either).
“I basically won the literary lottery,” said Goldberg. “The lifestyle I have now — I can be a full-time writer — is due entirely to the fact that my first book did extremely well. It’s extremely gratifying.”
The hard part was how to follow that up, though the author feels at peace with people’s expectations as she celebrates her third novel. In fact, she’s pretty distanced from the borough’s literary scene, save for her infrequent, low-stakes poker games with the likes of Colson Whitehead, Darin Strauss and Jonathan Lethem, “before he flew the coop.”
“There’s a very vibrant arts scene in Brooklyn, but I don’t feel like I have any scene,” said Goldberg, who’s perfectly content playing board games at her Kensington home, seeing film retrospectives at BAM and playing the occasional gig with her art-punk band, the Walking Hellos.
After spending the last five years working on her new novel, she’s also content to take a little breather from writing. Whether or not her next novel continues to explore the facets of memory — that remains to be seen.
“Certain issues stick with authors whether or not they want them to,” said Goldberg. “Memory might be mine.”
Myla Goldberg reads from “The False Friend” at Book Court [163 Court St. between Pacific and Dean streets in Cobble Hill, (718) 875-3677], Oct. 7 at 7 pm. Free. For info, visit www.bookcourt.org.
©2010 Community Newspaper Group
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