She 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.