The Resurrection of Joan Ashby: A Novel by Cherise Wolas

 

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What if she could travel across the sky for the rest of her days, never landing, too far up to be touched by what has transpired in her life, set up perfectly in her little corner of space, with her face pressed up against the window? 

Mothers are creators in their own right, birthing children, supplying a nurturing environment. Some women want to create something other. What does it mean for a writer, the possibility of having children and a husband to tend to, life tackling from every direction and sucking dry every free moment? To be a mother is to sacrifice freedom sometimes vital in the blossoming of one’s work. So it is with Joan Ashby, hot on the heels of success, an unexpected  and unwelcome pregnancy forces upon her the struggle- does she extinguish this unborn life or does she embrace her pregnancy. The choice she makes alters the course of her career, her entire universe. Just how much can a woman be diluted? Joan boxes up her glorious words to raise her family with no idea how her hidden writer’s life will set the stage for family betrayal.

Exploring the burden of genius there is also the envy, the insecurities birthed of those living in the shadow of a sibling’s gifted ease. Intelligence, for someone knowing only what they lack, can look like enchantment. The horror of being witness to endless possibility, wealth- a magical life that you can never attain, and try as you might through sweat, blood and tears- there is a ‘ceiling’ you will never surpass, while around you others are shooting stars. For Daniel, in this nest of brilliance he is a naked bird, winged but without flight. What happens when the one thing that was yours was only illusion? Who do you blame? Your mother, of course.

Just when Joan is ready to have a second life of sorts, to make a great return with her literary genius, it is stolen from her. Though her children are grown, it’s not going to be an easy transition from motherhood to writer. Each of her son’s are collapsing, even when they are making grand strides. Joan’s stories are sprinkled throughout the entire novel, at times it’s wonderful but it does make for a much longer read. What hits home is how much is put upon Joan, how her husband isn’t quite as involved as he comes and goes, spreading his brilliance the world over and here she is, left carrying the children on her shoulders, watching the danger slowly making it’s way to her youngest- somehow a woman always the one left to clean the messes, buzzing with all that talent inside her mind but stuck helping others realize their future. It’s an old story, a woman full of promise, about to show the world just what she is made of, gets pregnant and to the back of a dark closet goes her dreams. What happens when one of her children pokes and prods her past? Joan destroys without even knowing it- how could she know? Why is it so poisonous for a mother to have an identity?

As much as I enjoyed Joan, I actually felt more for her damaged son Daniel, nurtured on her breast with stories but also the beginning of a stopping point in her own writing. Daniel, who takes everything he learns about his mother and has to chose between jealousy and ruin, or inspiration and creation. I could spend hours talking about this novel, and it’s certainly one for serious readers. Let’s not leave Eric, the youngest son, out. Eric has a brain that is boundless but timing, maturity, and the heart- all things that must be accounted for, are brushed away to his detriment. Eric seems to reject his mother as soon as he is born, and Daniel seems so much a part of her. Who could predict the turn of events? I just keep thinking ‘Want to hear God laugh?’  ‘Make a plan.’ If you’re not religious, ‘Want to hear the universe laugh…’ well you know.

Some people may got lost in the stories within, find them a distraction. For the majority of Ashby’s work, I felt the tales within lent much to Daniel and his dissection of his mother. Sometimes it was too much, and I am a lover of wordy, lengthy literature. Wolas is one to watch, because I had moments of euphoria, if it were edible I’d be in a food coma. However, there were moments too I felt some of the book could be extracted and it would still be beautiful.

Would that we could watch our life, remain untouched by all the accidents (happy and otherwise)- we cannot, not mothers anyway. We carry the blame, even if your home is full of progressive thinking, the world isn’t- not really. Somehow when children fall apart, the world looks to the mother. If you can’t handle lengthy books, it may not be for you but it explores more than just motherhood and I think anyone can enjoy it. I’m interested in what Cherise Wolas write next, because she is a hell of a writer. In fact, I felt some of Ashby’s stories would make novels I would devour. Yes, pick this one up!

Publication Date: August 29, 2017

Flatiron Books

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