Monday, March 2, 2009

"I know the way!"

Before my generation, before reliable birth control, a girl of reproductive age could find herself pregnant without any of the resources she'd need to begin bringing up a child. I never got pregnant without meaning to, but, like almost everyone, I knew women who did get pregnant accidentally. In the future, surely this will happen less. But this is the framework of Joanna Scott's novel Follow Me, available this April.

In Follow Me, a 16-year-old girl who has been--essentially, if not violently--raped by her cousin gives birth and then leaves the baby on her parents' kitchen table, even though her parents are too rigidly disapproving to nurture her, much less her child. She runs away, and the cousin takes the baby and beats it to death, a secret that is revealed only at the end of the novel.

So the title Follow Me makes me think of a line from the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, when the guy who "gets lost in his own museum" reins up his horse and yells "Follow Me! I know the way!" It's ironic. Like the museum guy, the 16-year-old girl, Sally, has no idea where she's going. And it doesn't get better. The novel traces not only where Sally goes, but also where her daughter and granddaughter follow, and it's a sordid and largely pointless story. These are aimless women, whose most modern love story reads like this:
"They hadn't bothered to consider legitimizing their connection with a formal engagement. They believed that the freedom to experience love without commitment, without obligation, was essential if they were going to enjoy a future together."
Oh yeah, and just to put the cap on that 60's era nonsense, let's have sex without using birth control! Because my mom never used it, and I'm following in her footsteps!

Sally steals the savings of a man who was kind to her and runs away to a town where
"she truly was welcome. Though she couldn't yet know for sure, so far it seemed that there was nothing these people wouldn't forgive. No one blamed her for the rash actions of her youth; no one whispered about her behind her back. And with every day that passed, she felt less afraid of her own potential for making a wreck of things. It wasn't that she was unaware of the long-term consequences of her earlier indulgences. She understood that some consequences couldn't be left behind by boarding a bus. But this time around, her future wouldn't be something she just stumbled upon by mistake."

And for a while, it does seem that she's found a better way to live. She raises her daughter, learns a trade, and makes some good friends. But then when her daughter's father comes along, she runs again. She completely loses touch with the friend she named her daughter after. Eventually she has a tawdry affair with her married boss and is forced to allow her daughter's father to visit. Finally, in the last great act of her life, she tells the man who is in love with her daughter, the father of her daughter's unborn child, that he is the son she abandoned on the kitchen table. She believes this, because her relatives have led her to believe it, and so she manages to make her daughter's lover run away, wrecking her daughter's life and causing her granddaughter to be brought up by yet another single mother.

I liked these characters enough to be let down by their behavior again and again, generation after generation. They fooled me twice, shame on me. Have you ever felt fooled and even betrayed by a character's actions?


bermudaonion said...

Great review - I hope I like this one better than you did.

Nicole said...

Sounds like this one definitely kept you engaged even though the characters kept letting you down. I can't wait to see what I think of this one. I will be reading it on down the line.

Serena said...

Thanks for stopping by my review. I really had a hard time getting into this one.