Category Archives: Susan Isaacs is a better writer than this thing indicates

Goldberg Variations

Goldberg Variations
by Susan Isaacs
Published by Scribner
336 pages
Genre: literature
Thanks to edelweiss for the preview
1 / 5 cupcakes

When I read Almost Paradise by Susan Isaacs, I was furious when it ended. Those of you who have read it know the plot-based reason, but I was also angry because it ended … period. I wanted to keep reading. I loved the characters, the story, the way Isaacs writes. I had a similar, if not altogether as intense, reaction when I read Lily White.

So I was really looking forward to Goldberg Variations. For one thing, Bach’s symphonies by that name stir my soul. And for another, it’s Susan Isaacs! And I love her!

And I was so disappointed!

Let’s just be honest. There is not much to like about this book. The characters are almost uniformly reprehensible, with one exception (and she’s such a minor character that you don’t even meet her till the closing chapters), but that could be forgiven if the story were interesting. Which it isn’t.

Dare I say it? I was bored. Bored by Susan Isaacs!

I never thought I’d say those words.

The setup is focused on Gloria Goldberg, one hot bitch if ever there was. Gloria is the brains and force behind Glory, Inc., a sort of “meals on wheels”, fashion-style, for the harried woman who needs a caftan to feel complete. Gloria’s two sons each begat children, and she summons the three of them to her palace in Arizona to propose a partnership. She will select one of the lucky trio to run Glory when she dies, while the other two get nothing. Not one cent of all of her money. When she coldly presents this to siblings Daisy and Matt and their cousin Raquel, she expects them to fight between themselves to become the designated heir. Instead, she is met with rejection from all three.

Daisy (a story editor for a movie studio), Matt (a PR rep for Major League Baseball) and Raquel (a lawyer for Legal Aid) all have their reasons to say no to their granny. For one thing, they have had virtually no relationship with her. Daisy and Matt’s father was never Gloria’s favorite, and his children are defensive on his behalf. Gloria may have adored Raquel’s father, but when he up and married a Catholic Latina (gasp!), Gloria was not amused. And let everyone know.

After the discussion, the four spend a few days together, and feelings change. The grandchildren get to know their grandmother, and she them. Will one of them go to work for her? If so, what does that mean for the two left out? Or will all three of them hop a plane and head back to the East coast?

The thing is, you will cease to care. Gloria may be one of the coldest, most hateful characters since Miss Havisham, but at least she has some life in her. Daisy, Matt and Raquel are dull. Yes, even Raquel, who is presented as the feisty Latina. Yes, I know. Nothing stereotypical about that, is there. Matt is just a bumbling twit, and Daisy is flighty. Who cares if one of them gets Glory, Inc.? Who cares if they instigate a rapprochement with Gloria?

I sure didn’t.

There was very little that I found interesting in this book. A few blips here and there (Matt drops a bombshell on his family, for instance), but otherwise … crickets. The only reason I even finished this book was out of a longstanding devotion to Susan Isaacs. I feel like I deserve a badge of honor, or at least a really good piece of dark chocolate covered caramel.

If you read it, please let me know what you think. I was severely disappointed.

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