'Goldie" remains my favorite, though, because it's personal and because it's so exquisitely understated. In this book, the word art comes up only when Omus tells Goldie he's finally been convinced that she's an artist because she's "crazy." And Goldie, whose activity might even be passed over as craft, is an ordinary creature in that the blazing light of fame never reaches her and she has no inflated notions about her work. Granted, the act of animation--breathing life into dolls--has traditionally, from folklore and fairy tale to Bunraku puppetry, been regarded as something pretty special. But the Goldie Goffstein gives us is blessedly ignorant of all that. What she does is simply an extension of what she is , perhaps nearly all of what she is. Her work is her vocation, but it is in no way separate from her. In her own eyes, it is not exalted, simply felt as an imperative. To our eyes, of course, she has all the marks of the artist: the sense of necessity, uncompromising attention to detail, the sublimation of the self to the work, the satisfaction in the process of making, which is like no other.
"Goldie" does not sentimentalize the circumstances of a dedicated artist's life. On this subject it is matter-of-fact. It records the interminable and erratic working hours, the sheer technical difficulty of the labor, and the poverty that must be endured. In the small universe Goldie inhabits, food, clothing and shelter are reduced to basic necessaries; she lives largely on tea and buns. Admittedly, Goffstein, whose other big subject is domestic security, cushions the situation just a little. The menu is tea and buns, after all, not bread and water, and the loving detail with which the spare furnishings of Goldie's home-workshop are rendered lends the place a climate of coziness. Still, any luxury--even a soul-mate's art--is beyond our heroine's reach.
Of all the monastic rigors to be accepted with equanimity, "Goldie" most emphasizes the social isolation that goes hand in hand with the solitude art demands from its practitioners. One of the delights of Goffstein's treatment is we get to see Goldie temporarily defeated by the demands of her calling--after wandering around her small dark house like a stranger, she weeps until she sleeps--and then is rekindled to her arduous but, for her, irresistible task. Another virtue of the story is it doesn't need to state outright what impels Goldie, because that is so clearly implied: She is about the business of creation, a holy and reverent act, imitating the work of the first creator. "An artist is like God," Goffstein begins another of her books, "but small."