I picked up Joan from the bookstore the day before it was supposed to appear on the shelves of every bookstore in the country. I searched through Strand because it wasn’t something displayed just yet on the mounds of book tables in front of the store. No, Joan was a little secret left to those who already knew the book was about to publish.
Throughout the weeks beforehand, I had heard rumblings across the bookish universe about how amazing this book was. How insightful and surprising it is for a first novel from an unknown author. I felt intrigued by that alone and as the stubborn mule that I am, I had to check it out for myself before I can make a discerning comment.
What I found to be a compelling novel about a writer and obviously a book written for writers. I’ve always believed that I would one day become a published author.
I did myself a huge disservice by trying to read this book too quickly. I was trying to be as quick about reading this because I had so many others waiting for me to read them, so I panicked. However, Joan is not the type of person to be rushed. I think that can be clearly expected from her, but I rushed her and the following points I bring up which brought my review to a 4/5 are probably because I didn’t give her the full, calm, and extended attention she deserved.
The Resurrection of Joan Ashby is the story about a woman who already had a promising writing career ahead of her. The book begins with article clippings of praise for Joan’s already published short story collections. Then all of a sudden, she disappears from public eye and this is where her story begins.
This is an extremely detailed story of a woman who struggles to find balance between the dreams she made for herself prior to having a family and the reality of raising two kids with an almost absent husband. Suffice it to say, this wasn’t Joan’s plans for herself.
I know a lot of women who would argue that you’re able to have a fulfilling and lasting career even with having kids. I’m pretty sure Beyonce is one of those women. However, if you’ve ever written anything and aspired to be a writer there’s a certain amount of sacrifice you make in order to write that book. The few years I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo I don’t remember going out with friends or having conversations online. I would just sit at my desk and type words that would fall out of my head in hopes of making heads or tails of it in the future.
And it’s completely possible to be a writer and be a mother. I think this is just one truth Joan Ashby refused to see and it was clear she never saw that throughout the story. It really is the novel for writers about writers and writing. It’s about the sacrifices you need to make in order to let your art shine. What I found to be a really interesting style I’ve never seen before is how Cherise Wolas spent so much of her time writing several different stories into one giant behemoth of a novel.
First, she’s writing the story of Joan Ashby’s life, then she has long excerpts from the books Joan Ashby has written. She also has pieces of writing from Joan Ashby’s books while she was living her life. Finally, she also has the stories Joan’s children carried with them as they uncover the truth of their mother. Like how do you get yourself into the mindset of not only your own voice, but Joan Ashby’s voice, and then the voices of her kids. It’s an incredible dissection of a writer and what goes into writing and it’s almost the inception of books. A writer writing about writing and writing a novel while living her life. Anyone who writes can understand it and can resonate powerfully with it.
I think my favorite part of this book is when she finally takes her trip to India. She pulls an “Eat, Pray, Love” to escape from the ongoing life she’d been living at the most pivotal point in the story. Her time in India was inspiring; almost like hitting the reset button on your life and starting anew in a different world with different people other than the ones you’ve felt were damaging your spirit.
However, I will say that the passages including excerpts of Joan Ashby’s work were quite long. They’re all so expertly written and the story can’t really move forward without them but it almost felt like I was reading five books at once and I found it a little bit exhausting at times. For example, there’s an entire section of this novel read from the point of view of Joan’s son Daniel. He reads his mother’s work for the first time and not only do you read the perspective he gains from her work, but how that plays into some of the decisions he makes for himself. It’s really powerful, but something I could have done with less of or truncated. Why did Joan need to be such a verbose writer?
While I wish I can give this story a full five stars, there were a couple of flaws that I didn’t really like. One of which is the constant reminder to the reader that this life Joan Ashby was currently living was not the one she chose. She repeats throughout the novel how she didn’t want to get married, how she didn’t want to have kids, and how she was basically stymied the great career she could have had because of them. Yes yes, we understand that this isn’t the life Joan Ashby wanted for herself and I believe she tried to do her best as a disconnected mother, but I don’t think it needs to be repeated over and over again.
I think this book can resonate not only with writers but with women who may have sacrificed a little bit too much in order to take care of their children and raise their families. They’re all noble decisions to make, I assure you, but what happens when the kids are all grown up? What happens to the Beyonce lurking behind the 5AM wake up calls and the trips to soccer practice or violin lessons? That’s what I think this book is about.
I placed Joan up on the shelf prominently displaying amongst my other books, and one day I’ll have the time to sequester myself with her and her story. Don’t take the last two points I brought up as hugely disparaging of you reading this novel. I think you should and I think you’ll understand why everyone believes in Joan.
You can pick up a copy of The Resurrection of Joan Ashby: A Novel on Amazon.com