Michelle Bailat-Jones

Writer, Translator, Reader

I recently reviewed this book at Necessary Fiction :

But this is not a book to read with blithe inattention, as much of what happens and what is said could be perceived as nonsensical whimsy. A slower, more careful read detects the fragile threads of what makes this a novel and not a playful and poetic montage.

If you are interested in discovering a charmingly eccentric universe created out of a string of elegant and bizarre little scenes featuring eight formidable women and other unconventional characters, please look for this book.

I wanted to add a few words here about the experience of reading Ruocco’s style of experimental fiction. Experimental fiction can ask a lot of a reader – either in concentration or complicity – and not all readers are willing to enter into that exchange. Including myself. I think a person either falls willingly, happily, dizzyingly, into the experimental universe or is kept, for whatever reason, at too far a distance to engage with the text.

As I began to turn the pages of The Mothering Coven, I was at first curious, then amused, then agreeably puzzled. I found myself both delighted at and concerned about the strange world and characters Ruocco had created. Eventually, I fell into the rhythm of the book’s intriguing vocabulary and shifting perspective. I am a sucker for a carefully-placed first-person plural, unusual description and poetic imagery. Especially if all of that comes packaged within enough “story” to keep me invested in remaining along for the rest of the journey.

Also, I appreciated Ruocco’s ability to combine whimsy with real feeling. So much of what happens in The Mothering Coven is, for lack of a better world, silly. But somehow, inexplicably, none of it is really silly at all. This is a novel about people feeling unsteady in their world and about missing loved ones. It is both comical and ridiculous, making it a lighthearted read, and yet wholly serious, making it difficult to forget.

Finally, to end, here is one of my favorite passages from the book:

The action has moved to the kitchen. It must be time for lunch. For Agnes, it is a working lunch. She is researching vermilions, the tiny lions crushed by the thousand to color the crimson velvets of Versailles. Her heart isn’t in it. Vermilions had many hearts. Of course, they have been crushed to extinction.


4 Responses to “Joanna Ruocco – The Mothering Coven”

  1. litlove

    I have to be in the mood for experimental fiction these days. I used to love it, but that was when I was writing professional lit crit, and so I was instantly in researcher mode whenever I had an experimental text before me. Then it always looked like something fascinating and curious I might be able to write about – now, I’m less into it, but I can still appreciate the way it adds unexpected gifts to the narrative experience.

  2. Dorothy W.

    I read and enjoyed your review over at NF, and I will certainly keep an eye out for this novel. It sounds really interesting. I love some experimental work — some of it is so fun and exhilarating. Other examples are just slogs, though. I’m always on the look out for the fun type!

  3. Michelle

    Thanks, Lilian, I’m glad you found it interesting.

    Litlove – It certainly takes more effort, more concentration I mean, than a traditional narrative. And I find it hard, too, to distinguish between something the author does without much premeditation to create an experimental texture or something which comes more organically from the text and creates the same texture.

    Dorothy – I’m glad you enjoyed the review. This was a fun book to read, aided in that by the fact that it’s short. Long experimental can be really hard.

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