For some time now, Michael Murphy has been letting me know that his Woodstock-based novel was in production and on the way to publication. I was flattered that he tracked me down. We both live in the Phoenix area, we’re both about the same age, we’re both writers, and we both have an interest in the original Woodstock. (I was there; you can learn more here.) We’ve haven’t yet met personally, but we’ll remedy that soon.
I was somewhat skeptical about what the novel, Goodbye, Emily, would turn out to be, but now that I’ve read it, I’m a fan! Michael has really captured the feel of Woodstock – the chaos, the mud, the dope, and the community spirit (OK, the peace and love) that held everything together for the weekend. As I was reading the book, I could visualize everything Michael wrote about, and I easily recalled the shortages of food, shelter and Porta Potties. I remember being caked in mud, much like Michael’s characters. The description of the setting was pitch perfect.
Michael’s real gift, however, is character development. He focuses on three friends – Sparky, Buck and Josh – who made the original trek to Woodstock and are now on a mission to get back one more time. The reason? Sparky met his wife, Emily, at Woodstock. She was the love of his life. When the novel opens, she has been dead for two years. To make matters worse, the college that Sparky taught at for many years summarily dismissed him, and he’s been spending his time drinking and throwing in an occasional, bitter diatribe against the new head of the college.
After ending up in the hospital, Sparky meets a cardiologist who recognizes that he is suffering from stress cardiomyopathy, colloquially known as “broken heart syndrome.” The doctor (who becomes Sparky’s daughter’s love interest) tells Sparky to start dealing with the stress points in his life or risk an early grave.
Sparky slowly takes the advice to heart. In a major development, he decides that taking Emily’s ashes to scatter them at Woodstock would be a catharsis for him. He recruits his wild man friend, Buck, to make the journey with him. Together, they also decide to bring along Josh, who is in a nursing home suffering from Alzheimer’s. They believe Josh, whose strongest connection to life appears to be songs from Woodstock, should have the trip to help enrich his life in the short time he has left. Josh’s mother won’t agree to the trip, so they smuggle him out, and soon police are on their tail. The odyssey provides plenty of stress for Sparky’s heart, plenty of opportunities to enjoy a little weed, and plenty of fun for Josh. By the end of the novel, everyone has grown, and all the baby boomers come to realize that life still holds lots of potential for them.
I recommend Michael’s book without reservation, and I’m looking forward to reading his earlier novels. You can learn about one of them, Scorpion Bay, here, and you can learn more about Michael here. Finally, check out the interview Michael did with Bonnie Kaye here.
I promise that this is a good read, and I urge you to check it out.