NELCOTT IS MY DARLING by Golda Fried (Coach House), 160 pages, $17.95 paper. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Golda Fried's protagonist, Alice, is the kind of girl I hated when I was her age and lived in Montreal. Jostling their backpacks through the bar, leaving bad tips, giggling at the freaks, girls like Alice made my skin crawl.
All this initially made me reluctant to read Nellcott Is My Darling, but Fried's ability to make Alice a complex character filled with awkwardness and believable personal awakenings kept me reading.
In the first few chapters, Alice has an almost intriguing lack of personality. She's a blank canvas created by her overprotective parents. In her first year at McGill, she's a naive little pup amongst her similarly wide-eyed pack of dorm-mates. She doesn't know how to cook, do her own laundry or interact very well with others.
As the book unfolds, Alice tries desperately to become an adult, frustrated by the fact that she's still very much a cherubic product of her sheltered Toronto upbringing. Adding to her exaggerated innocence, she's still a virgin.
Fried's command of language and periodic moments of poetic acuity held me. I rooted for Alice as she falls in love with Nellcott, such a perfect example of an early-90s record store employee, I could practically hear the Pixies singing whenever I saw his name on the page. The clumsy 23-year-old musician from Laval with a mystical demeanour helps welcome Alice to romance and to the romantic poverty of Montreal - about which women like Fried (and I) love to write.
Nellcott Is My Darling is a sweet story, but not so sweet that you wish something bad would happen. It's a satisfying summer read with a gorgeous cover illustration by Nicole Fram. Coach House rarely lets anyone forget that books are also art objects.
Golda Fried joins The Box salon at the Rivoli Wednesday (June 22). See readings, this page.