Goodin’s debut about a woman who prefers to look at the world through rose-colored glasses and a daughter who views everything in terms of black and white blends humor and inspiration but may leave some readers feeling half-full.
Meg May recalls few specifics about her early childhood, but she does remember the whimsical details provided by her mother, Valerie. According to her mom, Meg is the daughter of a pastry chef who died in a terrible pastry-mixing accident; Meg clucked like a chicken when she was born; the small scar on Meg’s face was caused by a crab cake, which bit her; and when she was a year old, she climbed into a freezer and had to defrost in a tub of hot water for two hours. Meg believed these and many more stories until she was 8 years old and wrote about her earliest memory, which she read to her class. Humiliated by her peers’ laughter when she recounted how her mother chased running beans throughout the kitchen, thereafter Meg rejected any element of make-believe and turned toward science as an orderly, logical way to view the world. Now grown, Meg leaves her studies at Leeds University to care for Val during the final stages of her cancer, and she realizes that this may be her last chance to learn the truth about her past. But Valerie won’t even admit she’s ill, much less acknowledge that her tales are nothing more than fantasy. A story about understanding and compassion and how people often distort the truth to protect themselves and others, Goodin’s narrative contains moments of eloquence, wit and sensitivity, but it’s difficult to ignore the overall saccharine tone of the novel and its fairy-tale characters: Ewan, the pure-hearted hero who communicates with plants and animals; Meg, the beautiful young damsel in distress who finds herself slowly drawn into Ewan’s orbit; Mark, the unpleasant, regimented and controlling boyfriend who pushes Meg to confront her mother; Val, the free-spirited, generous and loving woman who lives in her own world; the members of the band Chlorine; the buffoonish, lovable dwarves—er, men—who’ve never grown up.