A notable first novel by Goldner (stories:Wake , 2003) takes up the depressed plight of a Philadelphia census taker obsessed with asking questions.
Before linguistics-professor Quinn, her boyfriend of three years, up and left her for an older widow named Grace, and then got hit by a car while reading Proust, Anjou Lovett was a well-adjusted and even contented tax accountant living with Quinn in her stately own house in the idyllic Philadelphia hamlet of Glyn Neath. Yet the death of Quinn, who was handsome and chronically unfaithful, reminds Anjou (conceived under a pear tree in 1965) of the nagging family drama in her own past she can no longer ignore: her father walked in and out on her mother’s life while he was loving another woman. Anjou, at 35, has never forgiven her father for his desertion of her and her younger sister, Stella, until Quinn’s perfidy (and untimely death) prompts her to seek answers to questions she always meant to ask. Getting fired from her accounting job and securing work roaming her neighborhood completing forms for the U.S. Census is her perverse attempt at finding emotional recourse. The questions she puts to her neighbors, however, become increasingly more bizarre, such as whether they have cheated on their spouse (“I wanted to dispel my own notion that men are the natural cheaters in relationships,” she explains), and whether they have ever wished somebody they love would die. Troubling questions, indeed, and Anjou is eventually reported to her manager and her job terminated. But at her sensible, married sister Stella’s urging, Anjou begins to make overtures at rapprochement with her father, then with Grace, both of whom she presents with a list of questions she urgently needs answered. What should she do with the information that Grace never loved Quinn in the first place?
Goldner’s neurotic list-maker narrator is also endearing, in a debut with emotional resonance. Heartfelt, interior work.