In this debut novel, a middle-aged woman explores past lives and present tensions in emails to her daughter.
“I was Sha Li, a priestess of the highest order, a worshipper of Kuan Yin, goddess of compassion and mercy.” So begins the first of many notes, via email, that Grace Heronheart drafted (and mostly sent) to Alyce, her college-aged, eldest daughter, just after Grace quit her 20-year job as a school psychologist in rural West Virginia. After noting that “our families probably think that I lost my marbles,” Grace tells Alyce that she’s actually “finding my rainbow colored, multifaceted marbles” by pursing her dream of being a writer. She provides her daughter with everyday-life updates, particularly regarding Alyce’s disapproving father; she also shares the story of her past incarnation as the aforementioned Sha Li, a secondary wife of a Chinese warrior. She tells tales of other past lives, such as Zete, a “dark-skinned” tribal “prophetess,” and Mourning Dove, a Native American who fell in love with a trapper. Along the way, Grace details the roles that Alyce and the rest of her present-day family played in these past existences. By novel’s end, she tells her daughter that she’s come to the conclusion that “I only write my own script. I cannot write anyone else’s,” and embarks on “a new adventure, and a new beginning.” First-time author Furst has written an engaging tale of midlife awakening that reads like a memoir even as it skillfully deploys past-life metaphors. Grace’s missives combine the relatable tone of a typical email from a mom (such as when she applauds Alyce’s choice in boyfriend) with striking tableaux of imagined lives. Sha Li’s tale is particularly poignant and reminiscent of the works of Amy Tan and Jung Chang. It’s rather ambitious to cover three past lives and a conflict-ridden present, however, and the “P.S.” about Grace’s modern-day decision comes as a rather abrupt bombshell. Overall, though, Furst effectively sketches a character that lives out her assertion that “sanctuary can be found in all my rainbow stories.”
A memorable depiction of an emerging writer exploring the many prisms of her voice.