Kalyanii reviews Women Float by Maureen Foley

WOmenFloat

The names may be different, the locales may boast an unfamiliar topography and the events may have a turn all their own; but, once in a very great while, a work emerges that is capable of providing the seldom-uttered assurance that this story is your story. It is akin to the caress of the author’s hand upon your cheek or the splaying of fingers through your hair, accompanied by a whisper that encourages you to find healing within the pain that resides at the core of her character’s own heart. You realize that, by embracing her abandonment, you are able to let go of your own. By hearing her lies, you are able to discover the truth within your own tales.

At twenty-nine, Win finds herself amid her Saturn return, trying to make what sense she can of nearly three decades that have known more than their share of loss, rejection, fear and disappointment. Surrounded by well-meaning friends with a penchant for new age modalities, her process is facilitated by everything from a water blessing ceremony to a Make Your Own Shrine Kit. Determined to release her fear, Win vows to return to the water. Though her mother, Janie, who left her at the age of nine, may have been something of a mermaid, Win has always feared the water and has never learned to swim… until now, twenty years after Janie went away.

Indeed, the first chapter of Maureen Foley’s Women Float serves as one of the most touching openings in recent memory. A recounting of Win’s ninth birthday, the last birthday in which she had her mother, the chapter introduces complexities, contradictions and metaphors that weave their way throughout the remainder of the work, ultimately juxtaposing her last encounter with the water during childhood with her first encounter in adulthood.

The insights gleaned into Win’s relationship with Janie are palpably heartbreaking, from the baking of her own birthday cake to the terror that her mother would be angry that she went out too far in the water; yet, even as the story unfolds, Janie cannot be fully understood. She’s simply too elusive, for the reader as well as Win herself; and, we continue to come back to the one question that begs answering — What compelled Janie to deny her daughter access to the freedom and power that resides in the unshakable knowledge that she can float?

Yet, this unbidden soul quest is about much more than making peace with the past. Take, for example, the love she holds for her best friend Mia, which is destined never to be reciprocated. Or the lies Win tells that not only convey an altered reality but the denial of her personal truth. Or the mysterious postcards, which only exacerbate her longing. At what point do the visions within her mind’s eye manifest themselves in conscious and mindful action? What does it take for one to liberate herself by letting go of that which does not serve her and to embrace her personal power?

Remarkably, enhancing the genuine sense of presence with which Foley pens Win’s heart is the undulating quality of the writing itself, reflected within imagery that lends a sensuous cadence to the work as a whole. There is very little of a linear narrative in the telling of Win’s story; and, the more we understand her experience, the looser becomes our own grasp on reality. Distinctions blur between the actual and the imagined, surrender and indifference, courage and fear… until Win begins to trust herself to let go… and we choose to do the same.

Women Float Virtual Book Tour: Kit reviews Women Float by Maureen Foley, plus audio excerpt from the author

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Anyone who has ever seen me on the internet for any length of time knows that I wish all stories could be made into audiobooks. I spend half my life legally blind. It would make me happy. But I’m also sure that even average narration does one of two things to most stories.

First, it can cover up a multitude of sins, if the story needs it. I can’t tell you how many books I’ve managed to listen to—and quite enjoy!–in audio form when I would have winced and put them away if I was reading the same from print. Second, when your story is good—when the language flows and the story is strong and dialogue feels real—hearing it read aloud can be beautiful.

Mo Foley’s Women Float falls into the second category. It is a tightly written, often lyrical novella that touches on friendships and grief and secrets that are better unsolved.  It is also completely outside of my literary comfort zone. I read children’s books and space operas. I like it that way. When I picked up Foley’s novella, I had no idea what I was getting into.   The blurb given by CCLAP is clever, so I’m going to include it here.

Lonely California pastry chef Win never learned how to swim, despite growing up just miles from the Pacific Ocean. Even Janie, her flaky pro-surfer single mother, couldn’t convince her to brave the water, solidifying Win’s fear when she leaves her at the tender age of 9. But when Win turns 29 and decides to take swimming lessons for the first time—finally confronting her hydrophobia and trying to make sense of why her mer-mother suddenly swam off all those years ago—she must also deal with a desperate crush she’s developed on her New Age neighbor, mysterious postcards that keep arriving in the mail, and her bad habit of pathological lying

That’s a lot of story in eighty-eight pages. My main problem with ‘literary fiction’, genre reading peasant that I am, is that it is often difficult to engage with the characters through all of the navel gazing. There are stretches of text that, if the story was made into a film, would roughly translate to someone staring out past the camera at…cormorants, or a beach ball, or something equally strange for 30 minutes. There are too many words, not enough voice. But Win is a warm, wry presence who had me with her nine-year-old commentary on mothers and boxed cake mix on the third page. Because of this—because of the mix of characterisation and dialogue, humour and vivid imagery—I was able to pay attention to Win and her town. Her voice keeps kept me grounded, even as lush descriptive passages made me want to stop and read things aloud. The mix is both lovely and necessary, and you’ll hear both in the chapter excerpt.

The troubled, determined woman she grows up to be was a pleasure to meet and read, and her relationship with her particular edge of California—both its landscape and its people—shifted like the water that comes up so often as metaphor in this text. It was by turns immediate and remote; sweet and compelling; dangerous and changeable and constant and, before I drown you all in adjectives, far more hopeful than I initially gave the story credit for.

(The other reason literary fiction and I don’t get along? Unsatisfactory endings. None to be found here.)

At the end of this review is an audio excerpt. Maureen did a fantastic job, one that just makes me wish that a full production could be done of the piece. Ignore my rambling, enjoy her words.

 [See the rest of the tour here.]

Carol reviews Women Float by Maureen Foley

WOmenFloatPublisher: CCLaP Publishing
ASIN: B00D208K98
Genre: Fiction

Overview from Amazon.com

Lonely California pastry chef Win never learned how to swim, despite growing up just miles from the Pacific Ocean. Even Janie, her flaky pro-surfer single mother, couldn’t convince her to brave the water, solidifying Win’s fear when she leaves her at the tender age of 9. But when Win turns 29 and decides to take swimming lessons for the first time — finally confronting her hydrophobia and trying to make sense of why her mer-mother suddenly swam off all those years ago — she must also deal with a desperate crush she’s developed on her New Age neighbor, mysterious postcards that keep arriving in the mail, and her bad habit of pathological lying. This touching and humorous look at female relationships and the dramas that come for contemporary women turning thirty also doubles as a loving ode to the small coastal town of Carpinteria and the laid-back SoCal lifestyle that guides it. Poetic and moving, Maureen Foley’s fiction debut is both a perfect beach read and an insightful look at love, accidental families and the power of friendships.

Review

3.5 out of 5 Stars

I find that sometimes novellas will leave me feeling unsatisfied as if there is unfinished business that was suddenly rushed to an end in an effort to complete the story.  That is definitely not this case with Women Float.

The main character, Wen, is complex and comes across as three dimensional.  In addition, despite her insecurities, and in some instances major flaws, I found myself wanting things to get better for her.  Wanting her to improve and get her life in order.

There was one particular quote about a ¼ of the way through the book that just really stuck with me, because of the imagery it created for me.  Wen is looking at an anonymous postcard that she received and she’s thinking to herself:  “I want the postcard to be from Selima. Or my mom.  Or Mia. Any of the countless women who’ve leaned their heads towards mine and told me huge important things, like how to separate egg yolks and whites and were to pick boysenberries.”  I think if we have been lucky we all have people in our lives who have shared the secrets of life.
This is a nice easy read for the beach, sitting in the back yard, or in the house on a rainy day with a hot drink.

Lena reviews “Women Float” by Maureen Foley

WOmenFloat

“Women Float,” Maureen Foley’s gentle and lyrical novella is a lesson in patience and painful futility of life.  The story follows Win, a baker in southern California, as she attempts to reconcile various pieces of her life.  There’s her mother, a mysterious figure who disappeared when Win was nine; Mia, Win’s best friend and unrequited crush; and Sandra, a woman who trades swimming lessons for cream puffs.  The central theme, that Foley weaves carefully through the narrative, is water and the idea of floating.

At times the metaphor is literal and blatant.  Win’s mother was a surfer, alive in the water, while Win has never learned to swim and mainly associates the water with traumatic experiences of disassociation and terror.  The swimming lessons with Sandra that carry through the book are dreaded moments of self examination.  What is really magical about this literal use of theme is it allows us access to the more nebulous aspects of Win’s identity.  We discover she’s a compulsive liar, exemplified in a terrifying scene with the people who now live in her childhood home, and is distracted by mysterious postcards that arrive from various parts of the country.  Instead of using the scene at her old home or letting the strange postcards become an obsession, Foley spends more time with the swimming lessons, bringing us into Win’s world through her own phobia and self-doubt.  We experience fear and hesitation in synch with the character instead of fighting through the steely control of her lies or the delusions of her love for Mia.  The result is a really beautifully created tragedy that still feels incredibly alive and beautiful.

“Women Float” is ultimately a tale about the futility of life.  By the end of the book, very little is resolved.  There are some answers, but the remaining questions still overwhelm them.  The ending does beg for more resolution, but at the same time there’s a degree of truth in the story’s final scenes that justifies its lack of closure.