It’s 9 p.m. on the first Sunday night of the month. Around a living room, my book club has polished off the pound cake that Christina, this month’s hostess, topped with lemon curd. We’ve also just concluded a spirited discussion of Charlotte Bronte’s Villette, even though one of us got bogged down in the middle (“Can I just say it’s not Jane Eyre?”) and another one of us never even got started.
That’s okay. As a club, we’ve been meeting in one configuration or another for years, and we’re casual. Not finishing the book has never been a reason not to enjoy the meal and the gossip, and we don’t even mind when the non-reader joins the conversation with an opinion based on the back cover copy.
But now begins the dangerous part of the meeting. What are we going to read next?
Amy has brought her entire bedside book pile for us to look at, but Michelle is feeling more like nonfiction. Anne recommends another classic, but Jayne disagrees. Libby says we should read John Updike, who died recently. Sarah has a terrific novel in mind that sounds like it would be great for discussion, only she can’t remember what it was called. Christina has only one request: can the book be short?
I love book club, and I love my book club friends. We’ve been with each other through thick and thin. They celebrate every one of my book publications with me, but I won’t let the club actually read and discuss one of my books.
And yet I have to confess that, secretly, I believe my most recent novel, Impossible, is the perfect book club book, possibly even the rare one that that our club will sometimes encounter, the book that manages to seduce everybody into doing the reading and participating excitedly in the discussion. In my book club fantasy of discussing Impossible, our conversation focuses first on the plot and characters and themes, but then widens into a discussion of our own experiences of being women and lovers and mothers and daughters.
Lucy Scarborough, the main character of Impossible, is a daughter in transition into becoming a woman, a lover, a mother—an adult. Her transition is urgent: she is racing the clock of her own accidental pregnancy in an attempt to make a shirt without needle or seam, find an acre of land between salt water and sea strand, and plow the land with a goat’s horn and a single grain of corn.
You might recognize those lines. I had been haunted by the ballad "Scarborough Fair" for almost as long as my book club existed. I had known for years that I wanted to write a novel about the story that, to my mind, lurked behind and between the ballad’s lyrics, a story that would force me to think hard about the primary question the song poses: What is true love?
But for many years, I did not sit down to write this story. I did not have the courage until a time in my life when the central question about love took on an extreme and personal urgency.
Then I wrote in a passion. I wove in family, mystery, danger, a faerie curse, and the history of the Child ballad "Scarborough Fair, or, The Elfin Knight." And as I wrote, I discovered that the story pivots on the meaning of love in all its many aspects, and that true love was wider than romantic love. It includes all the other love and help that we need in our lives. The love of parents and family. The love of friends.
Story is metaphor, of course.
And so, I think I will be brave and ask my club, one month soon, to read my book, Impossible, with me. Because just now, as I write, I have realized that what I really want is to share a little more of my heart with them, my friends, my book club. And I hope that the discussion we’ll have after that will show me a little more of theirs.
National Book Award finalist and Edgar Award-winning author Nancy Werlin reads with her book club in Peabody, Massachusetts. You can watch a trailer for Impossible on her website.
Win copies of Impossible to read with your book club! It's easy:
1.) Create a book club profile on our site if you haven't already—must include a photo or image.
2.) Write a review of any book you've read as a club before September 1.
That's it! Winner will be randomly drawn from among the eligible entries on September 7, 2009.