THE RESURRECTION OF JOAN ASHBY: A Review

This 2017 debut novel by Cherise Wolas is “a stunning debut–because there is nothing debut about it.” (A.M. Holmes, NY Times bestselling author).  I agree with this statement one hundred percent. This is one of the smoothest, most professionally-written, insightful novels I have ever read.  Every character is beautifully developed, every plot twist and turn is unexpected, and even shattering in one instance. The story explores, and maybe exploits, the thoughts and inner life of a writer in its main character, Joan Ashby.

The plot Wolas develops stems from “sacrifice” that is demanded with the onset of motherhood and the profound effect it can have on a gifted writer. Although originally unapologetic about her ambition, when the time comes Joan, our protagonist, makes the selfless choice, not once but twice with entirely different and even difficult outcomes. Excerpts from Ashby’s “dark and singular stories ” as one of her critics describes them are interspersed throughout the novel, and I must confess that I would love to read more than one of those imaginary short stories in its entirety.

Her struggles to set her two precocious sons on the road to success and happiness demand time and attention she must steal from her writing. Towards the end, with the plot developments that occur, Joan comes to question every decision she has made in her life, and as she travels to India to examine her accomplishments and failures, to evaluate her life and her life’s work, and there she makes the only decisions she CAN make to satisfy the intelligent reader.  The article from a fictional literary magazine, which serves as an epilogue adds to the reader’s sense of closure and satisfaction with “the way things work out at the end.”

I highly recommend this book and rank it “right up there” with A Gentleman in Moscow as the best book I’ve read this year.

 

THE LEAVERS by Lisa Ko: A Review of an exceptional immigrant story

Lisa Ko’s 2017 novel, winner of the PEN/Bellwether Prize for fiction awarded by Barbara Kingsolver (for a novel that addresses issues of social justice) is an excellent novel. It is the story of Deming Guo, aka Daniel Wilkinson. The title indicates that everyone in his life leaves, or he leaves other people.  It is an intricate story of “love and loyalty.”

As the story begins, we find Deming with his immigrant mother, Polly, who works in a nail salon struggling to survive in The Bronx. One day Polly does not come home from work, and her boyfriend and his sister, Vivian, the mother’s roommates are not sure what  to do with the ten year old.  Deming, of course, wonders why his mother left him, then soon, why Vivian left him with social services who allowed the Wilkinsons, a middle-aged, white couple who are professors in upstate New York to adopt him.

This is not just an immigrant story, but a mystery that has many surprises along the reader’s journey through the novel. The book deals with expectations: parental expectations ; middle-class expectations, from both biological and adoptive parents; and  Deming’s own expectations from life.  Because of the last, he (Daniel) becomes a slacker, somewhat directionless and lacking purpose. The writer’s point of view alternates between Deming’s and Polly’s, spinning out extraordinary  lives of both main characters. There are happy moments and sad ones as well.  The setting spans the globe, presenting “one of the most engaging, deeply probing, and beautiful books I have read.” (Laila Lalami, author).  I agree.