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Michael Murphy
What others are saying about Goodbye Emily
Author Alisha Paige
Broken heart syndrome is a real disease and Sparky's life is on the line. Grieving over the loss of his beloved Emily has weakened his heart and ruined his relationships with his friends and daughter. Adding to his life stressors is his forced retirement from Milton College where he was an adored professor. Unable to focus on anything but the downward spiral of life, he self medicates with booze. After seeing his doctor, he realizes he needs to make big changes unless he wants Sparky's spark to die out forever. He makes a list and on that list is his health, his lost friendships and his career. Sparky must find a way to deal with his loss and repair his relationships or his heart will never mend.

Two things keep Sparky alive for now. His faithful golden retriever, Lady and his memories with Emily at Woodstock, relived nightly in his dreams. And when he's awake, the shrine to Emily where her ashes sit in an urn reminds him daily of his loss. Taking the doctor's advice and the pleadings of his daughter, Cloe, Sparky forces himself to work on his lost friendships. First on the list is his good buddy, Buck, a Vietnam vet, and drummer of their hippie band, The Buck Naked Band. Buck and Sparky cook up a plan to bust the third member of their band, Josh out of a nursing home for Alzheimer's patients. After visiting Josh, they both know that a road trip to Bethel, the home of Woodstock Nation is the only thing that will bring him happiness, along with lots of nostalgic music and other hippie type activities that make me wish I was born before 1970.

It's a race to Bethel for three old hippies, one hitchhiker, a loyal dog, a lot of sweet smelling smoke and the hippest tunes from the 60's, while the Feds and a hungry D.A. chase after them. Sparky promised them all that they'd return to Woodstock one day and this is his last chance. Emily's urn is buckled down and along for the ride in what turns out to be a road trip full of adventure, love, laughter, fun, superstar appearances and heart-felt healing. Goodbye Emily will leave you cheering, laughing and crying until the very end. A heart wrenching read that makes you think about what's most important in your life. I wept at the end but it was a good cry, a cry that made me sigh and go tiptoe into the living room where I had to kiss and hug my husband and my three kids just one more time before going to bed. And then I had to go to You Tube so I could watch Woodstock Live.

Alisha Paige/Ruby Vines/Wolfgang Pie/The Wooden Nickel
Vietnam Veterans of America Books in Brief, by David Wilson
The garish, tie-dyed cover of Goodbye Emily by Michael Murphy (Koehler, 270 pp., $16.95, paper) fairly shouts that the book is about the psychedelic sixties.That is a form of truth in packaging as the focus of the book is Woodstock and what befell three friends who made that pilgrimage and whose lives were changed by that great adventure.

The hero of the book is a broken down old English professor, Walter Fitzgerald Ellington. He’s pining away with a broken heart for the love of his life, Emily, whom he met and fell in love with at Woodstock. Emily died of cancer, and Professor Ellington was riffed from his tenured faculty position at Milton College around the same time.

His life becomes aimless and centered on the joys of the bottle. He conceives the notion of returning to Woodstock to scatter Emily’s ashes. His companions for this journey can only be the buddies he went to the giant 1969 rock festival with in the first place.

Professor Ellington reactivates those long-ignored friendships, which is not easy. One of his old buddies is Buck, a damaged Vietnam veteran who carries with him the gruesome image of an ambush near Danang. The image of Buck’s sergeant’s severed bloody head rolling into his lap has fueled his nightmares for decades. The mortar round that took off his sergeant’s head also left Buck with a shrapnel wound to his knee.

The other buddy is Josh, a sixties folk singer languishing in a nursing home totally out of touch with reality due to advanced Alzheimer’s. It proves necessary to kidnap Josh from the facility for him to be a part of this “roadtrip”—a word Josh says over and over during their journey. This journey is made in Emily’s old van, which Buck decorates with psychedelic paint and a large peace sign.

This heart-warming but sad tale is told effectively in back and forth chapters, from the present to the actual weekend of Woodstock. I liked the historical Woodstock sections best, but both parts of the story are very well told.

I didn’t go to Woodstock, but I did attend several rock festivals of that sort, and I think the author does an excellent job of summoning up that long-gone era. He does that in a positive and life-embracing way that made me nostalgic for the sixties and all that entailed.

I couldn’t help but think that those were better times, mud and all. Of course, part of the reason for thinking that way is that now I am old, sick, and dying of Agent Orange-caused cancer. That might explain some of the emotions I brought to this novel.

One of my heroes, Jimi Hendrix, makes an appearance near the end of the chapters on Woodstock. The author does a nice job with a scene between Jimi and our hero and Emily.

Mostly, though, I do not agree with the cover blurb that characterizes this book as “irreverently funny.” I am willing to concede that the problem is likely with me, as this journey of self-discovery seems more one of sadness than joy. No matter what personal discoveries the professor makes—and he makes some—Emily, the love of his life, is still dead. That cannot be changed.

You can’t go home again, and you can’t go back to Woodstock again, either. We’re shown the main characters at the beginning of their lives, teenagers in love with life, and then we’re shown these people near the end. Sad stuff to me.

The professor does overcome his emotional problems, and sets about going on with his life. So in that sense, the novel is positive. But Josh still is dying of Alzheimer’s and Buck still has shrapnel in his knee.

We are meant to see that the journey has reawakened their lives and helped them in their relationships with others, and that has happened.

Goodbye Emily is a powerful trip back in time, and also forward to the possibility of new lives. I recommend it to those who look for some hope near the end of the line.

The author’s web site is

—David Willson