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Follow Me – Book Review

followmeShe entrusted me with her version of this story late in her life. In fact, it’s a long story when all the pieces are added together, and it begins many years before my father jumped from the pedestrian bridge, when my grandmother was young and set out to follow the Tuskee River north. She confided in me because she wanted me to understand, as she put it, how one thing led to another. But I had to promise never to repeat what she told me to anyone. She would be furious to hear that I’m about to break my promise. I’d like to hope, though that by the end she would forgive me. – from Follow Me, page 7 –

Sally Werner is only sixteen years old in 1946 when an unexpected sexual encounter with her cousin Daniel results in the birth of a baby boy. On impulse, Sally abandons her baby on her parents’ kitchen table and flees, heading north along the fictional Tuskee River in Pennsylvania to seek a bigger life and leave her shame behind. Sally Werner recreates herself many times – changing her last name along the way (from Werner to Angel to Mole to Bliss), and starting her life over again each time fate delivers a bad hand.

More than sixty years later, the story of Sally’s life is retold by her granddaughter and namesake who has the benefit of pitting her grandmother’s story against another version…that of her biological father who one day sends her a package of tapes which reveal his side of the story.

There’s her side of the story, there’s mine, we’re lichen, our stories, the way they relate, they remind me of lichen. Lichen, you know, is made up of fungus and algae, it’s really two plants in one, the fungus is a parasite, it draws the carbohydrates from the algae, but the algae don’t seem to mind. I like to cite lichen as a prime example of symbiosis. Doesn’t every story involve symbiosis in a way, a relationship of dependence between two parts? Your mother’s story, what she knows, it’s a partial version, but so is your grandmother’s. – from Follow Me, page 313 –

Follow Me is a magical tale of one woman’s life and how her decisions impact others long after she is gone. Thematically, it is a novel about the selective process of memory and how history is defined by who is telling the story. Like the river which parallels Sally Werner’s life, Follow Me is filled with secrets and murky half-truths and things are never entirely how they first appear.

Joanna Scott is a gifted story teller. Her prose flows smoothly and the interconnected lives of her characters are revealed from several viewpoints. Embedded in the story of Sally is a larger story – that of the struggle of single women faced with unplanned pregnancies and the shame that often accompanies them. Sally is not a wholly likable character, and yet I found myself admiring her resilience and determination. Her mistakes, her desire for forgiveness, her effort to make things right again – all resonated with me.

My only complaint with the novel was its length. At times I felt impatient for the story to unravel faster. I wanted the secrets revealed sooner. Follow Me is a leisurely story. It meanders. But despite my impatience, I turned the final page with admiration for Scott’s writing, as well as a deeper understanding of her characters.

For readers who enjoy literary fiction, family sagas, and character-driven novels –  Follow Me will appeal.

Recommended.

4Stars

15 Comments

  1. April 27, 2009    

    I have so enjoyed reading all the different reviews of this book on the blog tour. Each one of you has focused on something slightly different and I have come to the conclusion that this would be a book that I would enjoy reading!

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. April 27, 2009    

    Follow Me is a leisurely story, but I really enjoyed the journey! Great review.

  3. April 27, 2009    

    Glad you liked this! She is a fantastic writer, isn’t she? That hardware store felt especially visceral. And the box of money!

  4. April 27, 2009    

    Molly: It has been interesting to read other reviews…you’re right, everyone seemed to come at the book from a slightly different angle. Did you enter the give-away?

    Kathy: It was a good journey for me as well – I thought the use of the river was perfect for this story.

    Miriam: Thanks again for sending me the book! And yes, her writing is exquisite. I’m looking forward to the other two books as well.

  5. April 27, 2009    

    Wow, your review really shows that you enjoyed this book in spite of the length. I had a tougher time with the writing and the meandering of the story.

  6. April 27, 2009    

    I am enjoying the book… which is probably why I didn’t tear through it this weekend like I thought I would for in time to finish for the tour. I am enjoying the writing though at first it was getting in the way. Great review. I can’t wait to finish the book.

  7. April 27, 2009    

    Glad to “hear” you enjoyed it too 🙂 I really loved Joanna Scott’s writing!
    I agree, it was a bit slow at times, I was also getting impatient because I just had to find out the truth!
    The M thing made me sooooo sad 🙁

  8. April 27, 2009    

    What a nice review!

    One of the burning questions I had towards the end was… “What happened to the money that got sent?” It wasn’t until the non-answer that I was able to let it go – I didn’t know if someone was going to be revealed as a villian or not. 🙂

  9. April 27, 2009    

    This was a tough read for me. I thought the story was interesting, but I wish it unfolded faster. Glad to hear you enjoyed it, though.

  10. April 27, 2009    

    I agree with you–it was an amazing book but the length was a little daunting. I’m glad I finished it, though. It was an amazing piece of writing!

  11. April 28, 2009    

    Great review Wendy. I think you touched upon a lot of the pints that I had when considering this book for my review. I definitely wanted the first half to move more than it did. I was wondering if I would end up liking it, but then the second half kicked it up a notch and the vision and cleverness of this novel and Scott’s writing revealed itself.

  12. April 28, 2009    

    I’m glad you enjoyed this one. The length and its slow nature didn’t appeal to me. Nice review!

  13. April 29, 2009    

    Serena: That seems to be the #1 problem readers had with the story – the length and leisurely pace.

    Toni: I’ll look forward to hearing your thoughts on it once you’ve finished.

    Lisette: Scott’s writing really is a joy to read!

    Amber: I know what you mean – we never really understood what happened; although I suspect one of the brothers or maybe the mother used it to care for her other children; although we also don’t know if she sent it on to the father of the baby.

    Anna: *nods* the pace was definitely slow.

    Jenn: Looks like we agreed on this one

    Nicole: I agree the second half held up better for me.

    Swapna: It is starting to look like this book divides its readers into those who loved it and those who thought it moved to slow…I agree it was slow, but Scott’s writing sucked me in anyway.

  14. April 30, 2009    

    Another wonderful review Wendy. Now I am sorry that I didn’t participate in the tour. It seems like just about everyone enjoyed the book. It is on my TBR.

  15. May 1, 2009    

    Teddy: Thanks – I think you’ll find this one interesting.

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