I first learned about the slipperiness of childhood memories when I was 14, and returned to visit the house I had grown up in until the age of 8. I was absolutely convinced that there were two apple trees in the backyard. When I closed my eyes I could see them, and see myself playing under them. But when I walked out the back door, there was just one apple tree. How could that possibly be? I mean, I could see that other tree!
Myla Goldberg’s latest novel, The False Friend, deftly explores the chasm between childhood memory and reality. After a long absence through her adulthood, Celia returns to her small hometown to finally confess what really happened to her 10-year-old self’s best friend: Djuna fell into a hole in the woods, but Celia lied and said she had gotten into a car with a stranger. Celia is shocked when no one — not a single person — believes her adult reality of that childhood memory. The reader follows along as Celia revisits people from her past, including the other three girls who were part of her friendship circle. She discovers that each person she talks to remembers a different Celia, by turns sweet, selfish and bullying. Can reality and memory ever come together to form truth?
I enjoyed Goldberg’s previous novel, Bee Season, very much, and in many ways I enjoyed The False Friend just as much. Her characters are deftly drawn and she portrays the complicated relationships between people very effectively. The ending was a slight letdown, but overall The False Friend rang true to me.