We wouldn’t have suspected that Goldberg – author of a slightly precious coming-of-age novel (Bee Season) and a historical novel (Wickett’s Remedy) – would take cues from detective fiction. Though not overtly a procedural in any way, The False Friend concerns a disappearance, an amateur sleuth and a series of seemingly impenetrable roadblocks. It also happens to be one of the most emotionally rich novels this year.
Celia and Djuna are 11-year-old best friends, the kind of duo that agonises a circle of hangers-on, all wishing they had the certain something that allows two people to bond the way they have. But one day the two disappear into the woods and only Celia emerges. She reports that she watched Djuna enter a stranger’s car, and Djuna is never heard from again. But 20 years later, the memory of what really happened to Djuna is jarred loose in Celia’s head, and she returns home to set things right.
The trouble is, no one actually believes her. Celia’s determination to prove the truth throws her against even harsher realities, almost completely divorced from the ‘truths’ her memory has constructed. Psychologically astute and beautifully written, The False Friend provides the truest accounting of the way memory can be a burden.