The False Friend

Myla Goldberg

I was surprised that I hadn’t heard much about this novel from the writer of one of my favorites, Bee Season, which maybe someone else would have considered a really bad sign. But I enjoyed her second novel, Wickett’s Remedy, and have a fond memory of attending a reading for that book where she talked in detail about the research she did at the NYPL to learn about the 1918 influenza pandemic. Her appreciation of the pneumatic tubes in the library was especially endearing.

The False Friend starts out on a good, mysterious note. A woman suddenly has a revelation about a terrible event that happened twenty years ago, which involved the disappearance of her best friend. She travels back to her hometown to make peace with what she now believes happened, but this process is difficult in an entirely different way that how she expects it will be. So much potential, but unfortunately it’s the characters who often feel false. The moments that are supposed to establish familiarity between characters often feel forced. To some degree this may be to show how the protagonist Celia is inevitably at a remove from others because of this traumatic secret she’s been holding. But that doesn’t always seem to be the intent. Even at the end of the book, there are still passages explaining basic details about relationships between characters — the sort of stuff you would have expected to have been established much earlier. The book ended up feeling like a pretty good draft — if details were cleaned up, if the ending were stronger, this could be a pretty compelling story.