“What was she singing, Sindy?”
“I don’t know.”
“Oh.” Lucy bit her lip, containing her impulse to sing a few bars of a particular song and ask if that was it. But she knew it was. Miranda had been singing one song, a version of an old folk ballad, every time she showed up in Lucy’s life. Lucy was sick of it.
But the ballad still haunted her. Twined itself unexpectedly in her mind and inner ear, which was where it was now.
Are you going to Scarborough Fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
Remember me to one who lives there
She must be a true love of mine
Author: Nancy Werlin
Synopsis: Pregnant by rape while still in high school, Lucy Scarborough discovers that she is one of a long line of women who give birth to daughters at age eighteen and immediately go insane. Her own mother, Miranda, believed they were cursed by an Elfin Knight, and that they could only be saved by completing the three impossible tasks their version of the song Scarborough Fair asks for. Lucy is matter-of-fact and realistic by nature, but her sanity, and her baby’s future, depend on her ability to believe in—and do—the impossible.
Notes: This is a fascinating, albeit horrifying premise. I’ve wanted to read the book for a long time; the more so because I enjoyed Werlin’s Extraordinary.
The novel starts off very strong, giving an intriguing and dimensional picture of the protagonist and her pre-fairy-tale life. I was hooked right away—immediately fond of Lucy, of the musical Leo and motherly Soledad, of homeless Miranda, and of neighbor boy Zach. The music history and use of the old ballad also intrigued me.
When it came time to talk of rape, Werlin chose a well-phrased discretion, respecting the probable youth of her audience (I’d expect to see girls as young as eleven or twelve reading this book.) Faced with the consequences of that moment, Werlin’s characters stick to the Widely Acceptable Belief that abortion is entirely okay if pregnancy interferes with a woman’s life goals, which I cannot agree with. Their perspective suffers as well from the notion that college and career is the only right path for a smart young American.
Where Werlin herself stands, I couldn’t say, as the story itself is a step in a more generous direction. Lucy refuses to sacrifice her baby, even to save her own sanity. From a greater understanding of her family history, particularly of Miranda’s situation, she is grateful that her mother chose to give her life. She thinks of the baby as “my daughter” and loves her. I thoroughly respect that.
The story is ultimately a modern encounter with a harsh fairy tale—an evil elf-lord playing a cruel game with human women. The requisite three tasks must be accomplished, all of them designed to stump the realistic mind. But the brutal faerie curse is battled by the tough realism not only of Lucy, but of her foster parents and Zach.
Zach is a hero in the good old romantic tradition: courageous, chivalric and larger-than-life. I would have taken a little more filling out of his character, but then, the entire last half of the book covered so much time that character development, even Lucy’s, got a bit lost in the action. But still, he's a good-hearted and likable hero. I like the good boys best. Along those lines, I recommend Nancy Werlin's own thoughts on the writing of this book.
The ending is worth the read, not that anyone would be able to stop once they got started.
Special thanks to Arabella for getting me a copy of this book. I enjoyed it, and will probably re-read it to see if I get a better sense of the characters on the second time. Sometimes I blast through too quickly in the quest to find out what happens, and miss things. :)
Recommendation: Naturally, this book goes best with a good arrangement of Scarborough Fair. Simon & Garfunkel’s is popular and even mentioned in the story. My favorite is probably Sarah Brightman’s.