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Jacob Hammer's Review of The Resurrection of Joan Ashby

The Resurrection of Joan Ashby by Cherise Wolas

Reviewed by Jacob Hammer

Someone described this book briefly months ago and made it seem so intriguing that I picked up

a copy as soon as I could. Then it sat on the shelf for a while and I forgot what the person had

said about the book besides their enthusiasm and my own at what they said. When I finally got

back to it for this month’s review, I saw that this enthusiasm was not unfounded. The

Resurrection of Joan Ashby is a book of incredible complexity and insight.

The book opens with a spotlight piece from Literature Magazine on Joan Ashby who is an

acclaimed short story writer with two outrageously successful short story collections. It includes

some excerpts from the stories and concludes that she has yet to produce a novel even though

years have passed since her last collection was released. From here the narrative takes off. Joan

has just discovered she is pregnant despite being up front about her desire to keep children out of

the lives of she and her new husband, Martin. She decides to keep the child and do her best to

love it. During the pregnancy she finishes the draft of her first novel, but when she looks back on

it, decides to get toss it and begins writing a series of short stories after the first boy, Daniel, is

born. They hire a nanny, and Joan is still able to spend a fair amount of time working on her

writing, though she does not publish anything. She is a perfectionist of sorts and what she writes

during this time does not reach her standards. Things are covered over in a feeling of foreboding.

After a few years, another boy is born, but Joan struggles more to feel attachment to Eric than

she did Daniel. Soon enough, Daniel begins to start writing stories of his own. Joan encourages

him, but keeps her own literary career from him. The years go by. More and more of Joan’s time

is taken up by her motherhood. She carves out a few hours most days, over the course of nearly a

decade, and finally completes another novel that she wants to publish, but puts off publishing

because of increasing demands from Eric for supervision as he proves himself to be a genius of

programing and starts a wildly successful business from his parents’ home.

This point is where the novel takes a turn. Joan discovers accidentally that the novel she had

hidden away has been published by someone else and split into two books. The thief only

bothered to change the gender of one of the characters before publishing it to wide acclaim. Joan

is thrown into fury of emotions and discovers through the pseudonym that Daniel is the one who

committed the theft, the son who she had always gotten along with better and who seemed to be

more on his feet than Eric in many ways. Joan immediately leaves for India on a trip she had

been wanting to go on for decades and notifies her agent of the theft. The book shifts from this to

transcriptions of an audio recording that Daniel creates to explain his theft and more importantly

explain how he has felt in a family of geniuses. As a punishment to himself for stealing the novel

his mother had carefully tucked away, he makes himself read the two short story collections that

won her early fame. This gives us even more looks at her work as Daniel reads passages of the

stories that he finds especially striking. After a while of this and Daniel’s decision to transcribe

his mother’s novel with minimal changes, we move back to Joan as she flies to India. She arrives

in Dharamshala shortly after for what she believes will be a three week trip. The trip ends up

being much longer than that. While there she meets people who help her along her way and even

eventually meets a very much changed Eric who has been there for some months already. She

begins to heal. With this healing comes her writing again. Eventually Martin sends a package

with the recording that Daniel made. After listening to the recording, Joan has more clarity about

her relationship with Daniel and though she is still hurt, she moves past it and decides to remake

her life in Dharamshala, divorce Martin, and continue to pursue her writing. The book ends with

a note from Literature Magazine saying that a two novels are set to be released by Joan that very


What makes this book unique is how, through the use of Ashby’s writing, we get not only insight

into how she is processing what is going on around her, but also many more stories wrapped up

within the narrative. To add to this already complex view, we also have Daniel’s audio recording

that provides a whole additional perspective of everything that has happened so far in the novel.

The first half of the novel has an eerie feeling to it. Wolas expertly foreshadows Daniel’s betrayal

but leads us to believe that it will not come from him at all which makes the twist of it all the

better. This book rewards its readers for their labor with deep insight into the mental processes of

both narrators and a vast array of smaller narratives via the fiction of Ashby.

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