Ruth Emmie Lang explores family relationships with a solid dose of magical realism in her new book, The Wilderwomen. It’s a sweet and engaging exploration of sisterhood and the complications inherent in mother-daughter connections.
Lang’s primary voices are two sisters. Zadie is a twenty-something young woman on the cusp of many changes. She’s trying to finish college, manage a boyfriend, and stay connected to her younger sister, Finn. Since their mother, Nora, disappeared five years ago, Finn has been in foster care with a loving and well-off family. She’s a new high school graduate with a bright future ahead of her. So, the sisters plan a beach getaway to celebrate.
But they also can’t leave the mystery of what happened to their mother behind. It haunts them every day. And for Finn, that haunting is in the form of external memories she feels as if they were her own. Standing in a particular place, for example, Finn often feels the memories of other people who’ve also stood there. And now she has memories that feel like Nora’s.
Zadie resists her uncommon abilities, psychic predictions that aren’t always clear. Yet, she can’t ignore what’s happening to Finn. So the beach trip becomes a wide-ranging adventure in search of Nora.
Lang develops both Zadie and Finn with care and kindness. They’re two lost young women searching for their mother’s anchoring presence. She explores the psychological effects of abandonment with gentle subtlety.
Zadie’s response to Nora’s flight is to develop more walls and keep others out. Because she’s the younger sibling, Finn relies on Zadie. On the other hand, she experiences positive parenting because of her loving foster family. I wish more foster families were this kind in real life.
The explanation for Nora’s disappearance is unfurled slowly. Lang slowly exposes small pieces of the answer, effectively increasing the suspense.
As the sisters travel, the people they meet are unique and offer them new vistas. Again, Lang delves into creative magical realism here. She walks the edge between wild ideas and somewhat likely possibilities. And the effect is delicious.
This is my first venture into the world of Ruth Emmie Lang’s writing. It won’t be my last.
Thanks to NetGalley, St. Martin’s Press, and the author for a digital advanced reader’s copy in exchange for this honest review. The expected publication date for this book is November 15, 2022.