This novel deals with a most intriguing situation that pulls in the reader from the very beginning. Eccentric but aging business tycoon Gloria Garrison is CEO of Glory, Inc., which she had founded many years earlier and built into a highly successful beauty business.
Having recently unexpectedly lost her intended heir to the company, she has invited her three twenty-something grandchildren from New York to her palatial Santa Fe home for the weekend to decide which of them she will choose to inherit her business, although they do not know that when they arrive.
The problem, however, is that the highly driven, abrasive and no-nonsense businesswoman Gloria has not maintained much of a relationship with her offspring over the years.
Her obviously favored son Travis years earlier had converted from Judaism to Catholicism in order to marry a Puerto Rican woman, and then himself died unexpectedly while on a wilderness photography assignment in Peru. Her surviving son Bradley was never beloved much by his mother (for reasons never completely clear) but nonetheless managed to emerge reasonably well-adjusted and successful in business.
His children Daisy, who works for the film industry, and Matt, who works in public relations for major league baseball, and their cousin Raquel, the fiery Latina public defender attorney, prove to be more than a match for the feisty grandma they have barely known.
The title “Goldberg Variations” refers not to the famous Bach musical piece but rather to the four principal characters, all born (and most still) named “Goldberg.”
The weekend almost ends prematurely after Daisy, Matt, and Raquel all tell Gloria that they have no interest in being considered to inherit her company, as they all have successful careers in New York. Not having anticipated this development, the imperious Gloria is seriously miffed at their ingratitude and is about to send the three back home, but, in an uncharacteristically weak moment for all, they decide they might as well stay and get to know each other. It is this “getting to know each other” that unfolds through the weekend, which is the major portion of the book.
The grandchildren do not understand why their grandmother has been so uninterested in them most of their lives but would now consider passing her corporate “baby” along to one of them.
Indeed, they do not even know how to interact with Gloria, who even now is not particularly interested in being a grandma.
The four principal characters are all fascinating, each in their own ways. Raquel is the driven Latina Catholic attorney not about to be railroaded by her imperious Jewish grandmother. Matt is the consummate PR expert whose people skills are put to their severe test, even as his relationship commitment phobia is challenged during the weekend. Daisy is perhaps the most complex of the grandchildren and least predictable to the others. Feisty, hard-as-nails Gloria has seldom met her match as she does during this weekend as she is challenged to reconsider her family responsibilities and perhaps even decide she has some.
All the characters are changed over the course of the four days, not dramatically but in small ways that show signs they will have lasting effects. Being a part of this unfolding drama is a rare treat for the reader. We find out more about the Goldberg family history, revelations that help elucidate some of the characters’ behaviors.
In fact it is somewhat sad when the book is complete, as we find ourselves wanting to spend more time with these characters, even though none is an easy person to interact with.
As most readers probably anticipate, there is some reconciliation over the course of the weekend, although they are tentative and awkward moments of openness and vulnerability, which is much more convincing than a complete resolution of a lifetime of neglected relationships would have been.
Gloria does not suddenly becoming the doting grandma, nor do any of her grandchildren suddenly decide to abandon their current lives to become Grandma’s protégé. Will one of the grandchildren decide they do in fact want to be a part of Glory’s future? Will Gloria be reconciled with her son and two daughters-in-law and decide she does want to be a grandmother? How much of past hurts can be healed?
Read the book and find out.