Shrug: A Novel
Martha Goldenthal lives in Berkeley, California, in the 1960s. She’s got a nervous twitch—a shrug—symptomatic of her low self-opinion. The latter is greatly reinforced by her confused, uptight and abusive parents. Her father operates the Smoke and Records store down the block from UC Berkeley. He calls contemporary music of the ´60s “dreck” and loves classical music. He also has major anger problems and frequently beats his wife as well as Martha and her siblings Hildy and Drew. Her mother is in and out of depression until she gets up the gumption to divorce her husband, the results of which torture and confuse their children.
The great part of this novel is the depiction of ´60s music such as the Beatles, the Who, the Youngbloods and Bob Dylan. There’s even an appendix for those readers who want to hear the musical culture of the Berkeley scene. Martha has what is known as perfect pitch, but that doesn’t much help her violin lessons; she definitely has learning problems in school, unable to combine the parts of a subject or topic into a cohesive whole. She also suffers from teenage angst, hating her parents while desperately longing for their love. Martha’s few friends save her sanity and guide her through the challenging parts of being a teen. Yet she forges on to ultimately win her own independence and delight in being a UC student. While parts of this plot are emotionally powerful and tragic, there is a lightness in the narrator’s voice that will help young adults of our generation connect and root for Martha, her family and friends.