The Resurrection of Joan Ashby by Cherise Wolas is one of those books where you read more slowly and more slowly yet as you near the end because you don’t want the book to end. It tells the story of Joan Ashby, a successful young writer who releases two collections of short stories to universal acclaim before marrying, raising children, and not publishing another word for decades. This is that kind of book on steroids. I even delayed writing about it for a day because I wanted to keep thinking about it actively, not letting it be displaced by a new book.
When Joan Ashby was a child she wrote out her nine rules to achieve her goals as a writer. Seven and eight were never marry and never have children. Which means she ended up breaking all of them, including nine, never let anyone get in your way. Her husband (Rule 7) promised he was okay with her desire to have no children, but when she informed him of her accidental pregnancy he was so thrilled, she felt obligated to have her first, her son Daniel (Rule 8), which obligated a second child, Eric. She tried to write, but Martin was intrusive, showing his support in all the wrong ways, asking how her writing was going, invading her space.
She began to write in secret, giving up her ambitions, raising her children, being the perfect wife and mother. She loved, but in the background, there was this dispassionate recognition on her part that these people she loved were in her way. Martin is a world famous surgeon who travels the world, relying on Joan to keep the family going. He loves her, but he does not think of her as distinct from him. When he designs a huge remodel of their home, he makes an office, a library, all sorts of designated space, but not one room that is solely for Joan alone.
Rebecca Solnit wrote about how often when she talks of Virginia Woolf the conversation goes to whether she should have had children. For Solnit, “Many people make babies; only one made To the Lighthouse and Three Guineas.” Joan is a writer of that degree and the cost to the world of all those lost stories is immeasurable. Joan is a fictional character, but we get excerpts of her work, enough that I feel this bizarre resentment that we didn’t get to read them because she was raising kids.
This is Cherise Wolas’ debut novel and she gave us a lifetime of books and stories I want to read. I completely fell in love with Joan Ashby. I am glad she recognized her role in her frustration and negation, that she chose again and again to deny her art and deny her fundamental core and when her family takes advantage of her commitment, it’s partly her fault for never once telling them how she really felt. I can understand how it happened and understand her frustration. I admire her control and her intellect.
I would like to spend many more days with Joan Ashby.
The Resurrection of Joan Ashby will be released August 29th. I received an advance copy from the publisher through Shelf Awareness.
- The Resurrection of Joan Ashby at Flatiron | Macmillan
- Cherise Wolas