A novel follows several generations of women in a lineage inspired by an ancient amulet.
Hurricane Sandy is bearing down on New York City’s Rockaway Peninsula. Seventeen-year-old Maya Jones arrives at the Sea View Nursing Home to rescue her 105-year-old great-grandmother Maddy Rosario. Maya instructs Maddy to bring only important keepsakes, including a portrait of her mother and some framed pictures. There’s also a crystalline amulet—which can’t be found. When the women get stuck in the nursing home elevator, the narrative flashes back to 1905, to the life of Madeline Gallacuty, who’s been branded hysterical and is receiving the dismally confining Cure. While confined to her room for six weeks, she finds a crystal pendant hidden in her vanity’s drawer. An accompanying note says, “Know who you are,” signed, The Whale Rider. Once wearing the pendant, Madeline summons the strength of character to forge her own path in life, marry the man of her choosing, and become an advocate for women’s equality. Later, the meteorite-infused crystal ennobles Maddy, a fun-loving 1920s girl; Marjorie Berthe Hansman, a midcentury painter; and Mary Jane Johnson, a women’s libber active in 1970s India, to focus their talents and make strides for gender equality. Culler (101 Ways Your Mother Said You Could Die, 2015, etc.) uses a tense framing sequence to invigorate glimpses into eras when women were considered delicate, obedient, and often beneath notice. The flashbacks are rife with pointedly heartbreaking moments, as when Madeline’s cousin Lucy Fleming tells her, “Your highest duty in marriage is to suffer and be still.” Culler emphasizes not only the feminist, but the humanist perspective as well when World War I veteran Martin Amberfitch thinks: “Surely it was time to rebuild the world, not wallow in its distracting luxuries.” The nested tales are so lovingly rendered that readers will likely wish for further flashbacks to illuminate the lives of the Celtic Queen Cartimandua—in whose tomb the jewel originated—and Mr. Gallacuty’s part-Maori stepsister, The Whale Rider herself.
Romantic and tumultuous adventures that vividly distill a century of battles for women’s equality.