Allegra Goodman has delighted readers with her critically acclaimed collections Total Immersion and The Family Markowitz, and her celebrated first novel, Kaaterskill Falls, which was a national bestseller and a National Book Award finalist.
Abandoned by her folk-dancing partner, Gary, in a Honolulu hotel room, Sharon realizes she could return to Boston--and her estranged family--or listen to that little voice inside herself. The voice that asks: "How come Gary got to pursue his causes, while all I got to pursue was him?" Thus, with an open heart, a soul on fire, and her meager possessions (a guitar, two Indian gauze skirts, a macrame bikini, and her grandfather's silver watch) Sharon begins her own spiritual quest. Ever the optimist, she is sure at each stage that she has struck it rich "spiritually speaking"--until she comes up empty. Then, in a karmic convergence of events, Sharon starts on the path home to Judaism. Still, even as she embraces her tradition, Sharon's irrepressible self tugs at her sleeve. Especially when she meets Mikhail, falls truly in love at last, and discovers what even she could not imagine--her destiny.
- New York Times Notable Books of the Year
Goodman's (Kaaterskill Falls) marvelous new novel involves a woman's tragicomic search for spiritual meaning, a journey as physically peripatetic as it is emotionally migratory. As always, the key to enjoying Goodman's fiction is gradual immersion. Her narratives do not feature razzle-dazzle plot twists or melodramatic peaks, just quietly eddying waves of emotions and events that slowly build to a tsunami of insight. When, in 1974, college dropout and folk dancer Sharon Spiegelman follows her lover from Boston to Hawaii, where he runs off with a new girlfriend, she begins a 22-year odyssey distinguished by an earnest (but nave and often foolish) quest for enlightenment. Her first mystical vision of "resting in the palm of God" comes on a remote island where she has joined an environmental group; disillusionment follows. A second vision gleaned while whale watching proves similarly exhilarating, then deflating. On and on Sharon goes, bouncing from one epiphanic experience to another, changing boyfriends, menial jobs and mentors, positive each time that she has solved the puzzle of existence and ascertained her place in the world. But each new venture--whether raising marijuana; embracing a Pentecostal Christian sect, then New Age and Buddhists beliefs and practices; dropping acid; re-enrolling in college to major in comparative religions; living with Bialystocker Hasids--fails to give her lasting solace. But Sharon is learning positive truths even as she despairs of finding the answer to her cosmic questions; and her voice, a pitch-perfect mix of irreverent vernacular punctuated by hyperbolic exhilaration, is a comic triumph. Sharon's story is in essence a spiritual picaresque saga, and when she at last finds both true love and a satisfying religious commitment, she must undergo the painful test of reconnecting with her self-absorbed parents, and learn to forgive. Readers will finish the novel feeling that, given faith in the ultimate goodness of life, things can turn out right. Author tour. (Mar. 6) Forecast: Major ad/promo, including sponsorship announcements on NPR, plus a whimsical cover in an eye-catching yellow, will alert readers to Goodman's new novel; the author's golden reputation and the rave reviews this title will draw will do the rest in making this mini paradise-park of a book a well-deserved bestseller.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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Dial Press Trade Paperback
April 28, 2002
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Excerpt from Paradise Park by Allegra Goodman
Honeycreepers All this light was pouring in on me, and I started to open my eyes. I didn't know where in the world I was, and I reached over, but no one was there. The room was empty, and I didn't even know where the room was--it was all just floating in empty space, and I couldn't say what planet or star I'd landed on. All that was running through me in that one second was the loneliness of being this tiny insignificant particle in the universe, and how a life weighs nothing in all that light. And what is that light compared to God? Then I woke up and it came back to me. That the guy, supposedly my boyfriend, who came out with me to this joint, a fleabag in Waikiki, was now gone, run off with a chick on her way to Fiji, and he--actually they--had left me with the hotel bill, which since I had no idea how to pay I was avoiding by just staying in the hotel and not checking out. But you know, the vision I had before, when I was just half awake, that was the important part. That was like the angels talking, when they speak to you and teach you right before you're born, and then they put their fingers on your lips--Sh! don't tell! You almost forget, but somewhere inside, you remember. At the time, that morning, I just lay there and had no idea what to do, not to mention I had never as far as I knew even believed in the existence of God. But in my subconscious, and my unconscious, and everywhere else, I had all these questions and ideas about this higher power and this divine spirit, and maybe I would have been dealing with them if I hadn't been so broke. Finally I got up. I sat on the edge of the queen-size hotel bed. The bedspread was halfway off, sliding onto the floor, and the spread was green, printed yellow and orange with bird-of-paradise flowers so enormous they looked like some kind of dinosaur parts. The headboard was white rattan. So was the dresser and the mirror frame and the desk. There was no chair. Everything that could be nailed down was. There I was all by myself, yet it wasn't exactly like I'd had some kind of one-night stand! We were folk dancers. That's how my boyfriend and I had met a couple of years before. Gary and I were two of the original dancers that danced in Cambridge at MIT. Balkan on Tuesdays. Israeli on Wednesdays. This was in the seventies when the folk scene in Boston was just starting, and there was a group of us--it was our life. We'd gather together at night--guys in cutoff shorts and girls in Indian gauze skirts, tank tops. In winter we'd strip down out of our parkas and ski hats and wool socks, and unzip until we were barefoot. I had long straight hair, light brown, and I wore it loose down to my waist, and I lived to dance in Walker Gym with my hair flying around me and my shirt against my bare skin, and the smooth gym varnish on the floor like syrup to my toes. The music came from a tape recorder mounted on a little wooden cart painted gypsy colors, yellow and red, and stenciled in fancy green: mit folk dance club. The names of the dances were scribbled in chalk on a green chalkboard wheeled in from one of the classrooms. Then, from seven to eleven at night, we circled and wheeled and flew. We would dance like this for Balkan: twenty at a time together with our arms linked in a line, and our legs kicking and feet moving to rhythms like 7/8 or 11/16. Like this for Israeli: in concentric circles, feet flying, every other person off the ground. Gary and I were such a pair that everybody watched us. When we left the gym it was like after a performance, all those admiring eyes. We'd walk outside in winter, and shuffle through the snow with the heat still on us, carrying our coats for blocks before we started to get cold. Just wandering in the slush and barely noticing that gradual little bit of freezing cold water that starts wicking in through the seams of your boots. We'd get home to Allston and run up the stairs to Gary's apartment--a real