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Goldberg Variations

by Susan Isaacs

Hardcover, 322 pages, Scribner, List Price: $26 |


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Book Summary

A septuagenarian business owner evaluates her grandchildren as possible successors to her multimillion dollar beauty empire, assessing New York movie studio editor Daisy, womanizing sports PR representative Matt and religious legal aid lawyer Raquel.

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Inverting 'King Lear' In 'Goldberg Variations'

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Note: Book excerpts are provided by the publisher and may contain language some find offensive.

Excerpt: Goldberg Variations



I tell myself I'm not one of those tedious people who feel compelled to speak in smiley faces. Like: Whenever a door closes, a window opens. Of course they can never leave it at a lone, bubbly sentence. No, gush must follow: Gloria, truthfully, deep down, aren't you thrilled it turned out this way? You know, it's always darkest before dawn. But this ... Oh, God, this is your moment! You get to choose which of these three darling young people is worthiest to inherit your kingdom! Isn't it like some fairy tale come to life?

Don't ask.

Okay, ask. Here I am, pacing from room to room to room — and I am a woman of many rooms — trying to prepare myself for the onslaught. A limo will be here any minute bringing three virtual strangers to invade my house. All right, they are my grandchildren, but I barely know them. Goldberg, Goldberg, and Goldberg. Sounds like some shtick in a Marx Brothers movie.

Except what I'm living through is no damn comedy. More like a tragedy. Not tragedy with a capital T, I admit. The fate of a company like Glory, Inc., which trucks around the South and West demonstrating how to apply false eyelashes, isn't exactly in the same league as Oedipus, that king who put out his eyes because he slept with his mother. Talk about a classic, though I personally found the play creepy. Also, to be honest, a bit boring. Maybe if I'd gone to college I'd appreciate it on a more profound level because I'd have studied it, not just read it. Maybe not. No, definitely not. By the way, do not get the impression from the above that Glory is in the eyelash biz. That's only a minuscule part of what we do.

But getting back to tragedy: I understand it, intellectually and personally. I know the definition: the fall of a great person because of a character flaw he or she possesses. Right? For a long time I lied, said I went to college. When I lived in the East, I said Stanford, though at the beginning I was saying Sanford until I read in the Times that John Steinbeck was a Stanford dropout which, needless to say, was humiliating. To make it worse, I couldn't stop remembering all the times people asked me, "Where did you go to school?" I'd say, simply and slowly, "Sanford." They must have known. When I moved west, I switched to University of Pennsylvania. No one ever came back with, Yeah, sure. Because I'm so self-educated, I can pass as practically erudite. Well, if I get the name of the college right.

So, no capital T tragedy. Not that I'm claiming greatness for myself, but don't I qualify as a sort of tragic heroine anyway? Wasn't it a flaw in my character that caused the corporate cataclysm that led me here, pacing, then eying my watch, followed by a glance up at the TV's closed-circuit channel with its shot of the secured entrance to Los Ranchos Verdes Estates? The only vehicle that's come through during the twenty minutes I've been watching was a tan van, its windows obscured from road dust. Desert Flower Air-Conditioning painted along the van's side panel was so faded the entire van almost blended into the air, all shimmery at the edges, like a mirage.

What if one of them is utterly dreadful? Forget something blatant, like rank body odor or an uncontrollable need to detail a friend's transgender surgery in a loud voice in a restaurant. What if one of them is disgusting in a small way? Half-moons of that blackish-green dirt under fingernails. I've never been able to bear thinking about it long enough to figure out how the green gets there. Or instead of holding flatware properly, they clench knife and fork in fists and saw away at a piece of meat until you hear the scream of bone china getting cut by the knife. The boy could leave urine sprinkles on the underside of the toilet seat for the help to clean. One of the girls might have inch-long fake nails painted with tiger stripes.

I detest waiting. I act. I do not get acted upon. Instead of being five miles down the road at my office at Glory, Inc. doing what I always do on Thursday afternoons (checking inventory spreadsheets and confirming with the L.A. stylists what is and is not selling, accessorieswise), I am stuck at home waiting for the arrival of the three lamebrains I barely know. My three grandchildren. Fine, they're all theoretically smart. I mean good colleges. All gainfully employed, no mean feat nowadays, in respectable starter jobs.

The boy is with the New York Mets. Public relations. The Puerto Rican is a lawyer at Legal Aid in Manhattan. The other girl is number two at the New York office of Paramount which, for all I know, has only two people. But at least they've got respectable CVs.

Still, such a profound dread has been pressing down on my skull that I had to gag down two Excedrin. I hate pills. I exercise daily and I'm not on any serious medication except an asthma inhaler, and that's only once in a blue moon. But who wouldn't have a headache under these circumstances? I fear that once I exchange about four or five sentences with any of the three, I'll discover he or she naïve in a unique and hopeless way — and therefore incapable of running a business like Glory that netted eleven mil last year. Eleven.

I'll know soon enough. But though my headache has eased, I feel a little nauseous. The way one does after Belgian waffles. Except all I had for breakfast was two forkfuls of an egg-white frittata. Well, who wouldn't feel queasy? I'm going to have to choose one of those Goldbergs. But as I wait, I keep returning to the moment when not Oedipus but nonetheless an important figure, i.e., me, plummeted from a great height due to her Tragic Flaw.

From Goldberg Variations by Susan Isaacs. Copyright 2012 by Susan Isaacs. Excerpted by permission of Scribner, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.