Today, we got our stock of one of my favorite books of the season. Poignant and painful, Francisco Goldman’s story teaches us to see his wife and their short life together through his eyes. It’s difficult at times to separate fiction from reality, but this book isn’t about that. This is an obsessive almost-biography, an autopsy of a beautiful marriage, and above all, a pitch-perfect love story–sentimental, but never cloying; passionate, but often humorous–by an enormously talented writer. No one really writes this well, this emotionally; I’ve rarely read a more affecting or damaging book.
In mid-March, I ran this gorgeous essay by Grove/Atlantic editor Lauren Wein as a feature on The Front Table. It’s kind of a work of art itself:
Francisco Goldman is an unlikely Hades.
Other than the cartoonish arch of his black eyebrows and his swarthy overall appearance, he is more Pan than underworld overlord. He is quick to laugh and does so with abandon; he has an infectious appreciation for beauty and eccentricity, is prone to exuberance, flights of fancy. These are qualities that often diminish with the years, but with Frank they always seem to broaden and deepen. When I began working at Grove many years ago, just as Frank’s novel The Ordinary Seaman was about to be published, one of the first things I noticed about him was his openness, his sense of wonder.
This is surely one of the things that drew Aura Estrada to him when they met. In Say Her Name, the novel in which Frank draws on Aura’s all too brief life, and their all too brief time together, he writes that “they were comedians for each other always.” From my first read, that was among my favorite lines, because even though their story ends in tragedy, that simple statement captures so much about who they were together, and exemplifies what gives this book its incredible richness and texture, its aliveness.
I knew Frank had been working on an “Aura novel.” He’d begun writing it soon after she died in 2007, at age 30, following a freak body surfing accident on a beach in Mexico just before their second wedding anniversary. He turned the manuscript in on June 8, 2010 and I read it compulsively over the next twenty-four hours. I found myself walking around in a heartbroken haze for days after.