Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Review: Impossible by Nancy Werlin

It is suitable that I fell in love with Impossible by Nancy Werlin - after all, the book is about the redemptive power of true love against extraordinary odds, about how believing in love is the ultimate leap of faith, and how that faith can bring remarkable strength for even unfathomable tasks. But the novel doesn't beg or plead for your love - it doesn't need to. Rather, like its main characters, it enraptures the reader, capturing, enchanting the reader. Picking up this book was like sustaining a hypnotic state that I didn't want to shake.

Lucy Scarborough grows up in a loving home amongst a supportive foster family and enduring friendships, but she is haunted by the recurring presence of her mother, Miranda, a frequently disappearing vagrant whose reappearances are marked by obscure, hostile remarks, inexplicable actions, and a version of the folk song "Scarborough Faire." For most of Lucy's life, Miranda's appearances are simply a disruption - a blight on an otherwise idyllic upbringing with two open-minded, understanding foster parents.

At seventeen, however, Lucy learns of the true background of Miranda's illness - a family curse, placed by the Elvin Knight after being spurned by a human woman, Fenella. The Elvin Knight arranges for each daughter of Scarborough to be impregnated by eighteen, then burdens themwith the three impossible tasks from the song "Scarborough Faire" - if they can achieve each impossible task by the time the baby is born, the curse will be broken. Otherwise, they will go insane and the curse will repeat its pattern on the next generation.

As Lucy begins to understand the curse, its implications on her, her mother, and her family history, she sets to accomplishing the three impossible tasks before the birth of her own daughter. Unlike her mother, however, Lucy has the love and helpful support of her parents and longtime friend, Zach Greenfield - but will it be enough to save her sanity and that of her unborn daughter's?

To tell more than that is to give away significant portions of the text, which would be a shame because Werlin builds an intensity so subtle, 100 pages passed without notice, then another 100 pages. The use of "Scarborough Faire" as setup is an ingenious move - the song, often thought of as beautiful and loving, can also be read in very sinister terms, with the protagonist asking the impossible of a possible "true love," insisting that if these tasks are not completed, then she is not a true love of his - but without an excellent execution, Werlin's device would have come off as a novelty.

Werlin's a better writer than that. The touch of magic inhabits almost every character and plot action, but she never overdoes it. She lets the vibe carry through the story, but doesn't pushes by filling her plot with an overabundance of magical characters, strange happenings, or fantastical occurrence. The magic comes in bits and pieces - a character's devotion to another, an implicit understanding, a family bond, a lucky coincidence, an odd presence - and the characters realistically respond to out of the ordinary things.

Werlin crafts an excellent protagonist in Lucy. She's smart and strong, but fallible, and by midway through, the reader's affection for her is on par with that of the supporting characters of the novel. There always seems to be a purpose to her choices, even when her decisions are confusing or counter-productive, and it is to Werlin's credit as an author that while the love story set up for Lucy is pushed along rather quickly, it matches the tone of inevitability coursing through the book.

Good versus evil looms large, but inevitability is also a core concept - how inevitable is Lucy's fate? In the long line of Scarborough daughters, not one has managed to break the curse on the family. In her journal, eighteen year-old Miranda confesses that she could not even accomplish the easiest of the three tasks. She fears for her sanity each day closer to the birth of her daughter, the inevitable turn that will happen after the baby is born, after each Scarborough baby was born.

But Miranda's situation is unlike the others before her, and also that of Lucy's. While the others suffered in predictable loneliness and despair, Lucy has the abounding resolution of her family around her. She is supported by something much stronger than the crushing compounding doom of the looming family curse. What has been inevitable may not be once the impossible is achieved.

This is a YA novel for any age, a fairy tale for all audiences, a beautiful and beautifully written story.

No comments: