Ashley Bethard: The Last Book I Loved, Goldengrove


Sometimes you revisit a book you love, like Francine Prose’s Goldengrove.

Once you finish reading this book for the third time, you start thinking about your near-hero worship of Prose and her, well, prose. You think about what a well-developed character Nico the protagonist is. You start thinking about Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground and what great sadness Nico possessed. You start thinking that, like Nico’s dead sister Margaret, you belong to an earlier era that you were never fated to experience, except by way of books and film and art.

You start thinking about death. About how the whole book is sort of a celebration of death. How it’s this big nebulous question that resides either consciously or subconsciously in your mind, depending on the day, depending on your feelings at the moment. You start thinking about how everything you do in your life, all of your work, your accomplishments, your talents and failures, leads to the same ending. This is true for everyone.

You think about how much you didn’t like the ending of Goldengrove. You marvel at the fact that you didn’t remember how much you disliked it from the first two readings. You wonder if that’s because you wanted to remain in the Peter Pan-esque world of the forever young, how, upon falling in love with Nico the adolescent, you didn’t want to know Nico the adult, standing in a museum and looking at a painting that took her back to Mirror Lake.

Maybe what you really didn’t like was the fact that all stories end at some point.

Mirror Lake was the lake Margaret died in. You think about the scenes when Nico stares in the mirror, afraid of her own reflection, scared that she’s looking more like Margaret every day. You think of The Velvet Underground and Nico’s “I’ll Be Your Mirror:” When you think the night has seen your mind / That inside you’re twisted and unkind / Let me stand to show that you are blind / Please put down your hands / ‘Cause I see you.

So then you start to write. About Francine Prose, about her work. You think you’re writing a casual review. A way to get your mind around this book that has been stuck in your head, scenes of it playing on repeat like Margaret’s favorite films from early Hollywood. The Ginger Rogers salute before her dive into the lake. And in the end, you end up writing about your trip to New York City to visit your best friend, where you saw a stranger in Brooklyn wearing a Francine Prose t-shirt, the cover artwork from A Changed Man. You think of the homeless man in a dirty old coat in the heat of summer standing at the same dingy subway stop in Queens. You think about the bagels you ate for breakfast in Astoria and the dive in Manhattan where you ran into some fellow Midwesterners who drank Budweiser with you.

Switch coasts. You start writing about your trip to Los Angeles to visit the same best friend two years later. About Venice. About your morning walk for coffee and stumbling across Angel City Bookstore and Gallery on the edge of Santa Monica. You wanted a record player but couldn’t justify the cost, so you looked for books instead. You bought a copy of Elizabeth Smart’s By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept and Francine Prose’s Blue Angel.

Smart seemed too sad, but you flew through Blue Angel in two days. You remember the boy there, the boy you thought you fell in love with, all sun and tan and blonde curly hair. You spent three days with him and your best friend and her boyfriend. You started calling him Mr. Bojangles because of his tendency to wander off for hours. Text messages reading “come bojangle with me” started to mean something different. You spent three nights in the sandy sheets of his mattress with ocean air flooding the window. You all drank wine you had saved from your trip to South Africa the night before you left. He gave you his hat, the one he bought for his trip to New Zealand. And when he said goodbye, he said, Go. Before I keep you.

You cried when you left. You cried at LAX. You refused to pack the hat in your suitcase, placing it instead on top of your carry-on.

You remember the end of the book. When Nico stared at a painting of a lake in a museum somewhere in France. The floor moved beneath her. The story didn’t feel over anymore. The past could swallow you. You were lost and sad when you arrived in Los Angeles, but at least you were alive. It’s the city that brought you back, even though you said goodbye. Love brought you back. Love always, always brings you back.

Ashley Bethard's writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Hot Metal Bridge, Sea Giraffe Magazine, Peripheral Surveys and the Sandusky Register. She's editor of an entertainment magazine and is currently working on her first book. She blogs at and hero worships Joan Didion at More from this author →