The Wilderwomen - Book Review
by Ruth Emmie Lang
Women's Fiction Mystery
St. Martin’s Press
I received this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for a fair review.
I don’t often read this genre, but I liked the premise about two sisters and a road trip through the southwest United States.
The Wilderwomen is an engaging, gentle novel about abandonment, growing up, and the bond between sisters.
Five years ago, Nora Wilder disappeared. The older of her two daughters, Zadie, should have seen it coming, because she can literally see things coming. But not even her psychic abilities were able to prevent their mother from vanishing one morning.
Zadie’s estranged younger sister, Finn, can’t see into the future, but she has an uncannily good memory, so good that she remembers not only her own memories, but the echoes of memories other people have left behind. On the afternoon of her graduation party, Finn is seized by an “echo” more powerful than anything she’s experienced before: a woman singing a song she recognizes, a song about a bird…
When Finn wakes up alone in an aviary with no idea of how she got there, she realizes who the memory belongs to: Nora.
Now, it’s up to Finn to convince her sister that not only is their mom still out there, but that she wants to be found. Against Zadie’s better judgement, she and Finn hit the highway, using Finn’s echoes to retrace Nora’s footsteps and uncover the answer to the question that has been haunting them for years: Why did she leave?
But the more time Finn spends in their mother’s past, the harder it is for her to return to the present, to return to herself. As Zadie feels her sister start to slip away, she will have to decide what lengths she is willing to go to to find their mother, knowing that if she chooses wrong, she could lose them both for good.
I will admit I’m not fond of magical realism, but this book was less about the magical aspects than the characters and the setting, so it didn’t make me roll my eyes (as magical realism tends to sometimes-honestly, I just don’t have patience for it for some reason). In this novel, the magical aspects tie greatly into the plot, as the women are following their mom’s trail, so to speak, only able to do so due to their abilities. So, this aspect felt necessary to the story and not just some gimmicky thing to make it different from other women’s fiction.
Yet, I did find the novel had a big “convenience” factor, where just when they hit a dead end in their search, one of them would have a premonition or a memory that would tell them where to go. This wasn’t egregious, and any story with this concept requires some suspension of disbelief so I wouldn't consider it took away from my enjoyment.
In terms of the characters, I really liked Finn, but Zadie is a real stick in the mud and her pregnancy arc confused me a bit. If Finn wasn’t there to soften her, I probably wouldn’t have been as into the novel. Rather than a balance, it often felt like their two personalities were competing, but that’s part of the dynamic and it felt realistic (for sisters especially).
The random places they go are interesting and well described, though, again, this is a gentle novel so nothing is overly exciting or traumatic, but it’s still engaging and I wanted to know how the mystery was resolved. The writing style is very lyrical and easy to follow, with good descriptions and realistic dialogue. It was nice to read a novel like this for once, actually.
Now, one thing I wasn’t into was the ending. In truth, I really enjoyed the novel up until the final pages, when the explanation came. The explanation … was not for me. I didn’t really understand how it fit into the magical realism and the resolution seemed very quick and easy. I wasn’t sure how memory loss also fit regarding the answer to the disappearance, and I didn’t understand how the resolution fixed any of the problems. In truth, it felt a bit simplistic and almost negated the growth that was starting to build on behalf of the sisters’ relationship. But overall, I do recommend this book if you like road trips, sister stories, magical realism, and women’s fiction. It's a nice, easy read.