Not at all Foolish

Absolutely thrilled to be part of the blog tour hosted by Valley Press for June Wentland‘s new book Foolish Heroines! I definitely stayed up past my bedtime to read it, it was so engaging!

(Ooh, and here’s a quick link to the vlog too)

So, three things come to mind immediately when thinking about the book:

  1. It is, perhaps, one of the most peculiar (in a wonderfully whimsical way) books that I have ever read.
  2. I want to be best friends with all of the women in this book… and maybe chat with some of the men, not sure if I want bff status though, hmm
  3. This was me the entire time while reading it:

And now onto my thoughts–

Wentland takes the mundane and makes it both unique and surprisingly complex. This book has, I’d say, four primary heroines (though whether or not they are foolish is up for debate): Lily, a recent widower who’s coming into her own; Janina, an incredibly smart polyglot who seems to fit within the ‘bored housewife’ trope; Shaz, a North African emigre who’s both a belly dance instructor and a equity advocate; and Fatima, a part-time flower shop owner, part-time biographer. Oh, and there are about a zillion cats and semi-clueless men… but we’ll get to that in a minute.

To go back to point number three (aka Charlie and his conspiracy board), upon reading the first chapters, I admit, I was a little lost by introducing so many characters in such a brief period of time. Then one character’s path crossed another, and another, until it was a domino effect and everyone found themselves in Lily’s house-turned-forest and they were planning a kidnapping! (again, we’ll get to that in a sec) While initially a little overwhelming, I actually loved this extremely multi-layered story because it gave the book a real sense of reality. You often hear “it’s a small world,” and Foolish Heroines expertly exploits this fact, much to my amusement.

It’s so clear that Wentlend spent a copious amount of effort developing characters, mapping out how they relate to each other, and at what point to reveal those connections to the reader. It’s what makes the book interesting, engaging, and an absolute thrill to read.

What’s also incredibly intriguing (and somewhat peculiar) about this book are the elements of surrealism. I’m literally no expert on this genre, so perhaps a different label would be “more appropriate,” but it feels right, so let’s roll with it for now, shall we?

The very first lines of the book are:

When Janina Reston touched Owen Reston’s arm and her hand passed straight through it, it only confirmed what she’d suspected for some time – her partner was simply a figment of imagination. He wasn’t really there at all.

I mean, how much more intriguing and fantastic can you get? And then for Janina to start talking to the ghost of a spider, who’s really her reincarnated grandmother, or for a former Czech politician to be reincarnated as a cat… I mean, just wow. To some degree, as a reader, I wondered if the whole book was a metaphor or a dream. But it doesn’t seem to be the case at all. It seems to simply be a story of “real” people existing in the “real” world, but who have wild coincidences and events surround them. To go back to Janina realizing her husband “wasn’t there at all,” I loved how at the end, Wentland re-addressed this notion, saying:

“Truth is always much more complicated than surface appearances,” said Janina. “I was inhabiting an existence that was detached from the one Owen occupied. We lived in separate spaces that were merely superimposed.”

Isn’t that just beautiful?

It’s almost like quantum physics distilled into a philosophical story that also involves sisterhood and finding one’s identity. It’s such a dense and nuanced novel, but it’s incredibly engaging and not at all overwhelming. (Can you tell I’m excited about this book??)

I also loved the characters–if that wasn’t already clear–not only were each of the women incredibly interesting, but I loved how they all interacted with each other. I also thoroughly enjoyed the (somewhat minor) character development experienced by such characters as Owen. At first, he’s tolerable at best, but clearly not the best husband…but he tries. And I loved shaking my head and saying to him, “oh honey…” whenever he half-heartedly tried to make things work with Janina, who’s clearly out of his league and in a totally different athletic event all together.

Actually, on that note, the discussion of relationships was also very interesting, even though it only directly came up a few times. By way of looking at various characters’ romantic partnerships, Wentlend sparks a conversation around why we choose the people we do. At one point, the female characters have the titular conversation, observing that in literature, many “foolish heroines [who] make the most disasters choices in men.” Then the conversation shifts to spin “foolishness” into a more positive light, but I’ll let you enjoy it on your own… I can’t give away too many spoilers!

This observation and conversation is 1) very realistic in that I’ve found that most women/female relationships at some point discuss the merits and frustrations stemming from romantic partnerships. And 2) I thought it was both clever and interesting, directly addressing a theme that, for the most part, was somewhat subtle throughout the rest of the book. I liked that it made me think about the romances I love to read and I hope that it makes me more mindful about what I look for moving forward.

I absolutely recommend this book, especially to anyone who’s down to travel through a rabbit hole of philosophy, reality, history… it’s so nuanced, I think this book has the opportunity to appeal to most readers. In fact, the only potential turn-off I can think of is that there are a lot of characters so it might be a little hard to keep track of them all, but that’s certainly no reason to avoid it.

That’s all I have for Foolish Heroines–and a huge thank you to Isabelle Kenyon and Valley Press for including me, much love!

Be sure to look out next week for my posts on Death in Provence by Serena Kent

Happy Reading!


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