Thursday, April 23, 2009

'Follow Me' by Joanna Scott

I admit, with a little bit of embarrassment, that I have never been a fan of contemporary American fiction. From the time I first read it in college, something didn’t quite appeal to me even though I knew that there were some grand authors in that genre and I tried to make myself like it. To no avail. Deciding to read Follow Me by Joanna Scott was my last attempt at finding appreciation for contemporary American writers. I don’t know whether it’s because I am older now and with age my tastes have become a little more refined, or because I have read enough books to know good fiction from bad fiction, an okay book from a spectacular one, but Follow Me has finally ignited my budding love for the genre.

Joanna Scott’s book gives us a story told mainly by Sally Bliss, a granddaughter of Sally Werner aka Mole aka Bliss. It is essentially a recounting of Sally Werner’s life, gathered from what she told her granddaughter and what Sally Bliss was also told by her father via recorded cassettes. In 1946 rural Pennsylvania, 16-year-old Sally Werner lets herself be taken for a ride on her cousin Daniel Werner’s motorcycle. The enthralling ride, followed by what Sally thought was innocent but exhilarating flirting and kissing, ends in Daniel raping (in my opinion) Sally. She then is left carrying his baby and with guilt imposed upon her by her family that she was the one who tricked Daniel and made him commit that sinful act. Sally proceeds to deliver a baby boy, to abandon him on the kitchen table in her parent’s house and to run away in pursuit of a new life. The fruits of that pursuit don’t always turn out what Sally might have wanted but her optimism for life and belief in destiny help her along the way to live an amazing, sometimes tragic, sometimes happy, but never mundane, life.

Admittedly, Follow Me is a little slow at the beginning and somewhat difficult to get into, but I implore you to keep reading because it gets better and better with each page. The style of Ms. Scott’s writing is very distinct and present from the first page. Her use of verbs creating stand-alone sentences makes it seem that it is a dream we’re reading about, an urgent dream, sometimes a nightmare, from which Sally Werner wants to run away. It’s also like Tuskee River flowing north and outlining Sally’s journey through life. This writing is very intriguing and it kept me wanting to read more until I became absorbed by the book and couldn’t stop even if I wanted to, which I didn’t. The story of Sally’s life, her actions driven by the need to run away from town to town, her belief that she would always be haunted by leaving her son behind, are intoxicating. Without knowing when or how, I was pulled into the whirl of that river Sally had become and even when I wasn’t reading the book, it was constantly in my thoughts. Follow Me is so many things that one could really write a whole essay on it. Not only is it a saga spanning three generations, but also a tragic love story, a depiction of how much our lives are run by chances we’re not aware of and a tribute to the finest American storytelling of which I had been so unappreciative before Scott’s book landed in my hands. I do not like the term “modern classic”, but Follow Me might very well become one.

Special Thanks to Miriam P. from Hachette Book Group for sending me a copy of this book.