Review: The Resurrection of Joan Ashby
The Resurrection of Joan Ashby, Cherise Wolas
August, 29 2017
I viewed the consumptive nature of love as a threat to serious women. But the wonderful man I just married believes as I do―work is paramount, absolutely no children―and now love seems to me quite marvelous.
These words are spoken to a rapturous audience by Joan Ashby, a brilliant and intense literary sensation acclaimed for her explosively dark and singular stories.
When Joan finds herself unexpectedly pregnant, she is stunned by Martin’s delight, his instant betrayal of their pact. She makes a fateful, selfless decision then, to embrace her unintentional family.
Challenged by raising two precocious sons, it is decades before she finally completes her masterpiece novel. Poised to reclaim the spotlight, to resume the intended life she gave up for love, a betrayal of Shakespearean proportion forces her to question every choice she has made.
This book had already popped up on my radar and onto my TBR list for the fall when I was offered the opportunity to receive an early copy of the book from Flatiron Books.
Admittedly, despite the fairly wide variety of books I read, I don’t read as much literary fiction as I should. I say “should” not because I have any highbrow opinions about the kind of content anyone, myself included, should be reading in order to be “a good reader”, but because this is the kind of writing that reminds me why I love the world of writing, and why I aspire to write a book of my own one day.
Joan Ashby’s story is an interesting one, and one that the author feels must be told along side with pieces of the fictional writer’s actual work. At first I found this a potentially annoying conceit but came to understand how much Ashby’s writing really informed who she is as a person/character, and why these pieces were so important in how they shaped other characters.
Wolas’s writing, in creating Joan Ashby and creating Ashby’s work is absolutely stunning. The kind of purposeful, clear, intelligent writing that will make other writers both inspired and envious in equal turns.
Writing style aside, the story itself is a deeply interesting one as the both Ashby and the reader have to not only unpack some interesting ideas about identity in general, but what it looks like to be a female, a female writer, and a mother.
As a married person who is childless by choice because of the kind of selflessness that motherhood seems to require I appreciated the honesty of Joan’s experiences, and felt my heart break a little more each time she felt her own creative needs slipping away a little further. But as the book moves across the years of Joan’s life, it becomes apparent that her heart is a writer’s heart, and that there is not only permission, but grace, in continuing to create, in doing what you love.
Potential spoilers, so stop here and wait to enjoy the book if you want to remain entirely spoiler free.
There were only two things that didn’t work for me personally as a reader:
The section in which we see Daniel’s point of view as the main focus of the story. Closer to the end of the book I understood why this particular section, presented in this style, was helpful for Ashby’s story arc, but after becoming so invested in Joan and how she was processing things, it was jarring to move away from her.
The other thing was Kartar’s presence in Daniel’s story, and then in Ashby’s. Instead of feeling like some special connection in the universe between mother and son, it felt like an Indian version of the “magical negro,” with Kartar doing nothing but randomly providing kind and unsolicited insight into Daniel’s life, and then welcoming Ashby and serving as her guide of sorts years later in his home setting. This felt like an unnecessary addition to an otherwise uniquely remarkable story.
Overall, this was a stunning, well-crafted read, that had me rooting for Joan Ashby, reveling over the intentional choices any person makes, but especially a woman, and itching to pick up my own pen.
Some favorite quotes:
“...Vita Brodkey squeezes Joan’s arm. ‘Last words of wisdom. Whoever you were as a child, she’s your future.’”
“Each woman has a trumpeting call of Here I am, listen and learn. Joan has been listening and she has been learning, taking up her own instrument again- the right words on the page- figuring out the way they ought to slide up against one another, or sing, or crash, filled with grace, with blood, with bravery.”
“Up on that roof that late afternoon, she hadn’t yet shed her old self, the amorphous body that had carried her along, she had not yet fully hurled herself into the feast of the future, as not yet ready to saunter or gallop, was still just crawling.”