Criticism & Features

John Leonard Nominations

Leonard Prize Reviews: ‘The Resurrection of Joan Ashby’ by Cherise Wolas

By Lori Feathers

In November, National Book Critics Circle members will begin nominating and voting for the John Leonard award for the first book in any genre that has been published in the US in 2017. In the run-up to the first round of voting, we'll be posting a series of #NBCCLeonard reviews on promising first books. 

The John Leonard Prize is our annual award based on member nominations and chosen by a panel of member volunteers. Named for the longtime critic and NBCC co-founder, John Leonard, the prize is awarded for the best first book in any genre. Previous winners include: Anthony Marra’s A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (2013), Phil Klay's Redeployment (2014), Kristin Valdez Quade’s Night at the Fiestas (2015), and Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing (2016).

The Resurrection of Joan Ashby by Cherise Wolas. Reviewed by Lori Feathers adapted from her full review at Full Stop.

The eponymous Joan Ashby is a woman propelled by relentless ambition and extraordinary talent. By the time Joan is twenty-five she has authored two internationally acclaimed short story collections. Despite her vigilance against the “consumptive nature” of love Joan falls for Martin, a successful eye surgeon. When only two months into the marriage Joan accidentally becomes pregnant she reluctantly gives way to Martin’s unexpected desire to have the baby. From this launching point Wolas excavates the years-long emotional tumult of a woman who loves her children but loves her career much more, a reality that taints Joan’s relationships with her husband and two sons and roils her self-identity.

Joan’s striving to bifurcate her life affords Wolas the opportunity to explore how a life’s rhythms, distractions and experiences influence the creative process. And, also, how an artist’s life irrepressibly leaches into her work, which Wolas demonstrates by seamlessly knitting into the narrative about Joan, excerpts from Joan’s fiction.

Wolas draws contrasts among the four members of the Manning family, each ambitious in his or her own way, but most significantly, between Joan and her eldest son, Daniel, also a writer. Wolas’ vivid, revelatory writing cracks open the intricate and subtle shifts in how Joan and Daniel see themselves and each other as mother, child, and writers.

… the artistry of Cherise Wolas’ empathetic and resonant portrait of Joan Ashby, a woman who struggles every day to understand herself and to live the life that is true and authentic for her, despite demands and expectations to the contrary. Joan Ashby is every woman. 


Read Lori’s complete review at Full Stop.