Today we're sharing a guest post by Julia Fine, author of What Should Be Wild!
About the Book:
“Delightful and darkly magical. Julia Fine has written a beautiful modern myth, a coming-of-age story for a girl with a worrisome power over life and death. I loved it.” —Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveler’s Wife and Her Fearful Symmetry
In this darkly funny, striking debut, a highly unusual young woman must venture into the woods at the edge of her home to remove a curse that has plagued the women in her family for millennia—an utterly original novel with all the mesmerizing power of The Tiger’s Wife, The Snow Child, and Swamplandia!
Cursed. Maisie Cothay has never known the feel of human flesh: born with the power to kill or resurrect at her slightest touch, she has spent her childhood sequestered in her family’s manor at the edge of a mysterious forest. Maisie’s father, an anthropologist who sees her as more experiment than daughter, has warned Maisie not to venture into the wood. Locals talk of men disappearing within, emerging with addled minds and strange stories. What he does not tell Maisie is that for over a millennium her female ancestors have also vanished into the wood, never to emerge—for she is descended from a long line of cursed women.
But one day Maisie’s father disappears, and Maisie must venture beyond the walls of her carefully constructed life to find him. Away from her home and the wood for the very first time, she encounters a strange world filled with wonder and deception. Yet the farther she strays, the more the wood calls her home. For only there can Maisie finally reckon with her power and come to understand the wildest parts of herself.
From the Author:
When I started working on What Should be Wild, I knew I wanted to write about fairy tales—both those who listen to and tell them, and the repeating patterns in the tales themselves. Maisie, our heroine, in some ways begins as the typical fairy tale princess, locked away in her castle, pining for the wider world. She catches glimpses of another life through stories, many of which are told to her by Mother Farrow, an elderly village widow and the only person Maisie has access to outside her father and their housekeeper.
Women have always been keepers of fairy tales. From the ancient Sibyls to the “old wives” to French aristocrats in salons, they’ve used stories to teach younger generations how to navigate the world. (I highly recommend Marina Warner’s From the Beast to the Blonde to anyone interested in the history of female storytelling!) The stories Maisie hears from the men in her life encourage her to stay locked in her tower, but Mother Farrow’s stories push her to act.
While Maisie orchestrates her own literal and metaphysical rescue, readers get glimpses of the histories of the women in her family who’ve dealt with their own fairy tale tropes over multiple centuries. Each woman in Maisie’s lineage was inspired by a particular blend of fairy tale archetypes and dilemmas facing women throughout history. As I researched fables told across cultures, I was amazed at how many commonalities I found, specifically in stories about women. To me, this seemed representative of the challenges actual women have faced throughout history and grappled with through storytelling. I hope readers will catch my fairy tale references—my own version of the old DVD Easter Eggs.
We have Lucy, the invalid diagnosed with hysteria in the late nineteenth century, whose obsession with her health leads her to witchcraft. So many women’s ailments have been labeled “hysteria,” and for centuries any woman subverting behavioral norms was quickly labeled a “witch. ” Emma, the little girl who wears a red hood as she faces off with wolves. Helen, like fairy tale heroines and historical women alike, is pushed into an arranged marriage with a man she doesn’t love and goes to the ultimate extremes to buck parental expectations and assert her own agency. Mary is nearing her forties in 1700 and obsessed with youth, channeling Snow White’s stepmother in her growing desperation—if you think being a single “woman of a certain age” is stigmatized today, imagine what it must have been like when women couldn’t even own property. Imogen is our Cinderella figure, the woman who does everything that’s asked of her and tries to make the best of her circumstances, yet still finds herself wanting more. Kathryn was inspired by the fairy tale heroines—like Bluebeard’s wife—who indulge their appetites and are punished for it. And Alys, the oldest of the Blakely women in the forest, represents the pre-Christian storytellers who inspired the Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault to create the most recognizable versions of these folk stories today.
I hope you enjoy finding these connections as you read What Should Be Wild, and that the book inspires you to think about the history of women’s stories in new ways.