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The Resurrection of Joan Ashby

Review

The Resurrection of Joan Ashby

This is a novel for which the phrase “fiercely ambitious” is apt. When an author makes her protagonist a brilliant writer --- and quotes her stories at great length --- she has to be very confident of her skill. That confidence is justified here, and elevates this book above its sometimes contrived, sometimes meandering plot.

Joan Ashby, the brilliant literary protagonist of the book, achieves great success as a young woman, but when she marries and finds herself inadvertently pregnant, she decides to focus on being a wife and mother. This was not the path she envisioned for herself, and she rails internally against these new binds for years --- submerging her previous life, and maiden name, so that even her two sons have no idea. The older, Daniel, had loved writing as a child, but finding out in adolescence who his mother was makes him trade a writer’s life for business school. It also forces him to admit his lack of brilliance, and his anger at his mother for both hiding her past and making his literary efforts seem paltry is extreme. It doesn’t help that his younger brother, Eric, turns out to be a programming genius who invents an algorithm that nets him dizzying amounts of money and acclaim.

"There’s much to admire in Cherise Wolas’ debut novel. She writes with a sure-handedness that would be impressive even if this were not her first effort..."

THE RESURRECTION OF JOAN ASHBY is beautifully written and at times absorbing. At others, it feels as though Joan’s feelings of suffocation, imposed by demanding children and domestic duties, overwhelm both her and the reader. Her husband travels the world to operate on desperate patients, giving her even more responsibility, so at first she can’t find time to write. Eventually, she can’t admit to him or her children that writing is still the core of her identity.

For the first third of this long novel, Joan vacillates between wanting to publish again and thinking she has put that behind her. She finally decides to register her completed novel with the Copyright Office before sending it off to her agent, but meanwhile her old editor writes to tell her about two books she has just published to great acclaim. The news sends Joan into a tailspin and pivots her to a new life. The last third of the novel, which takes place in northern India where she goes to restore herself, has a dreamlike quality, where all of the conflict, resentment and yearning of the previous years have no place.

There’s much to admire in Cherise Wolas’ debut novel. She writes with a sure-handedness that would be impressive even if this were not her first effort; her protagonist, Joan, is a complex character whose artistic drive is minutely explored over the course of the book; locales and locals are described in vivid detail, especially when the book moves to India. Nevertheless, one is left to wonder if the plot is at times a device that allows the author to explore her central character’s inevitable path through life at the expense of the supporting characters, including her husband and sons. Though the three play major roles, they never seem to inhabit quite the same reality as Joan.

In the end, these peripheral characters and the events they provoke seem to be props to get Joan closer to her enlightenment. This takes away some of the power that the book initially promised.

Reviewed by Lorraine W. Shanley on September 8, 2017

The Resurrection of Joan Ashby
by Cherise Wolas

  • Publication Date: August 29, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Flatiron Books
  • ISBN-10: 1250081432
  • ISBN-13: 9781250081438