“Everyone wants charms, but thirty-two years on earth have convinced the mender charms are purely for show.”
In this novel, abortion is illegal, in-vitro fertilization is banned and soon single people won’t be allowed to adopt. The Personhood Ammendment grants rights to embryos (that cannot possibly give permission to be born) and desperate women seek help, anywhere they can. For some, it is in the hands of the mender (Gin). Gin, the forest dwelling healer, understands roots and herbs, how women used nature for centuries for healing and ridding themselves of unwanted ‘problems’. But there is a witch hunt built on lies, and it’s illegal to help women end their pregnancies. Is it also illegal to save women from brutal abuse?
Ro is a high school teacher, single and desperate to have a child of her own. The ideal partner hasn’t materialized, and pretty soon her options will run out as it will no longer be legal for her, as a would be single mother, to have a child legally. She is struggling too with fertility, trying to get pregnant before the laws change. Gin may be able to help her with her fertility or hormones or something, certainly the doctor she’s been seeing for treatment isn’t doing such a hot job! Her friends ( Didier and Susan) live the high life, a beautiful big home (Ro doesn’t envy them that), children but they are convinced Ro needs a partner. They are an example, children need both parents, and who will Ro turn to when she needs help, child-rearing can be rough! But for Susan, it may well be time for she and Didier to be ‘single’ again, there is a fault line in their marriage that she isn’t sure she can ignore any longer. Susan is disenchanted with her life, numb with the demands being a mother and wife make on her. Mattie is a young high school student, adopted by wonderful parents who certainly would not be proud to discover their cherished daughter is pregnant. Her boyfriend is useless, and she is desperate for a solution, her last resort may be in the hands of the odd witch, Gin. There is so much more to Gin than Mattie understands, and they may be more alike than she could have ever guessed. But her plan to save herself may come undone when Gin is arrested, and the fates of the women are tied. Gin tries to protect another woman, one who may well have turned on her with bitter lies. Everything is in chaos when the mender is locked up, who will the women turn to now? Maybe each-other.
Gin (the mender) is my favorite character. I can’t help it, I fancy stories about healers, forest dwellers, heck- throw some mountain fiction my way and I am happy. Before the sterilization of medicine, women turned to women for healing, not just for birthing or ending pregnancies but also for herbs/root medicine to treat illnesses (feminine and otherwise). People will debate this until they are blue, because each feels their truth is all that matters. But this is a provocative novel, because it raises a lot of questions that can lead to a healthy debate, and likely some unhealthy ones too. What happens when women have nowhere to turn? It’s not just about physical health, it’s spiritual too. You cannot separate the two. It’s interesting, Ro is desperate to be a mother, while young Mattie would give anything not to be and Susan is drained by it all.
This doesn’t just touch on abortion, but in Ro (who is writing a biography of Eivør, a little-known 19th-century female polar explorer) it expresses the limits society’s laws on women’s health would put on so many lives. Ro, with the clock ticking, may never know motherhood. Where would we put all the young criminals, that seek to end unwanted pregnancies, if they were lucky enough to survive ending them? As Ro gives snippets of the explorer’s life, it’s easy to see how much she admires her bravery. “Eivør Minervudottir did things she wasn’t supposed to. Took plunges.” Ro is opposed to the traditional way of things, and hates that you must have romantic companionship to be seen as whole, to be approved for motherhood. The new laws as they stand don’t leave room for those who shirk the traditional family setting. It’s strange that women in this novel are in some ways as limited now as they were in Eivør’s time.
There is a disjointed feel to the novel in the first chapter or so, but it flows and comes together if you stick with it. I was curious about the novel but didn’t think I would enjoy it nearly as much as I did. Again, it’s the mender who drew me in deeply but each character’s perception is vital to the novel. It’s not simply about the freedom of choices, it’s also about how women are hemmed in, limited. Told in alternating views, Mattie shares the tormented mind of a young pregnant teenager hunting for a solution. Ro expresses the hopelessness of a grown woman who simply wants to be a mother without all the trimmings of a traditional family. Susan exposes the stresses of a frazzled, harried life of a mother and wife who no longer has much faith in her husband, and longs to free herself. Gin is the mender who just wants to live her life without being harassed, healing women who need her and maybe herself included.
A surprising gem of a forth-coming novel.
This will be published in January, add it to your reading pile! I will revisit it when it’s released.
Publication Date: January 16, 2018
Little, Brown and Company
Lee Boudreaux Books