A nonfiction novel of love and loss…and perhaps even a little redemption.
In the Author’s Note, Goldman makes clear that much of this novel is based on the facts of his life. The main characters are named Francisco Goldman and Aura Estrada, a married couple. Goldman (in real life) lost his 30-year-old wife Aura in a freak accident on a beach in Mexico, as does the “Goldman” of the narrative. Both Goldmans are novelists; both Auras are writers of fiction. Goldman (the author) weaves into his story excerpts from journals and short stories penned by his late wife. While all this logistical complexity could conceivably be confusing, at some level it doesn’t matter what’s “truth” and what’s “fiction,” for the story is inherently moving and tragic, and it focuses on loss and lament—universal themes whether they derive from memoir or from an author’s imagination. The novel moves back and forth chronologically, starting at Aura’s death and providing generous flashbacks into both Aura and Goldman’s life. When they met, he was an accomplished journalist and a gifted novelist in his mid-40s, and she a talented graduate student from Mexico who’d come to Columbia to earn her doctorate in comparative literature. Along the way she decides she would like to study creative writing, so she co-enrolls in an MFA program at Hunter College. Aura is sprightly, witty and free-spirited, while Goldman is an extremely creative but self-admittedly overgrown adolescent. Their love is deep, and Goldman feels inconsolable at her loss. Shortly after Aura’s death, her domineering mother Juanita begins a campaign against Goldman, suggesting that he was in some way responsible for her death and threatening to bring a lawsuit against him.With pathologically maternal petulance, she refuses to let Goldman have some of Aura’s ashes for him to take back to their New York apartment. Toward the end of the novel, he begins to accommodate himself to Aura’s loss and to a limited extent to Juanita’s fractiousness.Appropriately, in this novel of death and dying, Goldman writes gorgeous, heartbreaking prose.