Monday, February 18, 2013

Book Review: Goodbye Emily by Michael Murphy

With Baby Boomers reading and writing more books than ever, I wonder why Boomer Literature isn't a genre of its own. I've read many different books that call themselves Boomer Lit. Too many are nostalgic memories of youth. Some are just badly written. Others, like the book reviewed here, surprise the reader. It's well written. It treats themes that are recognizable and timely. While it is a trip down the Woodstock memory lane, Woodstock serves as a backdrop for greater themes: friendship and keeping promises.

Michael Murphy's Goodbye Emily is an homage to friendship and the Woodstock Nation. Part road trip, part buddy book, all interesting, Goodbye Emily takes the reader back in time when Sparky, the main character, decides to fulfill a promise he made to his wife and two male friends to return to Max Yasgur's farm outside Bethel, NY, where the Woodstock concert took place.

Emily was Sparky's wife, once a carefree young girl he met at Woodstock. Dead two years from cancer when the book opens, Sparky has yet to deal with his grief. He suffers from broken heart syndrome, a real problem. His doctor tells him to make a list of all the things he has to address in order to return to his normal life and leave grief and drink behind. The top item on the list is Emily, whose ashes remain in an urn on the coffee table.

Sparky realizes he has more than Emily's loss to deal with. He wonders why his former best friend Buck, another of the Woodstock boys, skipped his wife's funeral. After confronting his friend, he learns that the third member of the trio, Josh, suffers from Alzheimer's and lives in assisted living. They visit Josh. Sparky and Buck sing some songs the trio sang when they were a garage band, the Buck Naked Band. Josh, who is non-verbal, begins singing along with them. Sparky thinks that if he can reach Josh through music he can bring a semblance of quality of life back to his friend.

One thing leads to another. Before Sparky realizes what he is doing, Buck has repainted Emily's van as a peace mobile, Sparky and Buck have kidnapped Josh from his residence, and the trio is on the run from the law. All they want to do is return to Woodstock and scatter Emily's ashes.

Secondary characters, like Sparky's daughter Cloe and her boyfriend who happens to be Sparky's doctor, add color to the story. All are well drawn and jump off the page. Minor characters arrive and leave with a trail of interesting color. The plot is tight. The road trip provides a strong narrative device to bring an odd cast of characters together.

A quick, rewarding Baby Boomer novel, I encourage you to pick up the book on Amazon, where it's available as a trade paperback or on Kindle.

7 comments:

  1. We thought the 70's was wild! That was just the beginning. Nothing compared to now!

    Looks like a good Boomer book.

    Morgan Mandel
    http://www.morganmandel.com

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  2. Love your descriptions of it. Sounds like a great book!
    Wendy
    W.S. Gager on Writing

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  3. Never went to Woodstock, but the book sounds like it'd be great fun to read!

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  4. Thanks so much, Betsy. My purpose of writing Goodbye Emily was not to make it a Woodstock novel, but a baby boomer novel to portray boomers as I see us, talented, funny, optimistic about the future, even with the problems we all face. Hope I've achieved that with the novel. Thanks for the terrific review and for the other comments.

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  5. Now this sounds like a great read! Based on your description, Betsy, I'm gonna put it on my 'to read' list.

    Thanks!

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  6. Nice job reviewing Goodby Emily. You told us just enough to make us want to read it, but you weren't a "spoiler!" Thanks!

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  7. Thanks for your message. Have you read lots of picture books? It's an excellent way to get a really good feel for what works. And it's worth checking out the recent ones (so you could go into a bookshop and read through lots of them -very carefully of course!). And if you buy some that you think are great, or get some really good ones out of the library, try typing them out and looking at them as manuscripts so you can see where the page turns happen and the shape of the story. That can really help give you a feel for it. I would really recommend joining SCBWI and there are all sorts of events where you can learn from other authors and editors and agents. We've got critique groups which can be extremely valuable in helping you make your story the very best it can be. My latest post is all about feedback on your writing, which might help (click on my name on the right hand side of the blog and it'll come up). And don't worry about your story not coming out perfect first time round: it often takes lots and lots of editing to get it right.
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