Out of the Pumpkin Shell

Out of the Pumpkin Shell

by Nancy Werking Poling

Amy Allen (08/06/13): Harriet, known to her best friends as Hat, captured my imagination from the moment she walks through the house nude on page two doing "the pencil test" to test whether her year of icy showers has indeed firmed her breasts. It has not. Wisely, she abandons the icy showers. She appears to have that uniquely feminine ability to be beguilingly gullible while being simultaneously savvy and sharp, a trait that never ceases to provide humor, fascination and intrigue. Hat narrates this story as her best friend, Elise, struggles to understand her family's past. Elise is wild and reckless, with a barely-curbed, but yet, unspoken anger that lurks in her language and actions. Hat eloquently describes their adventures with a first person account of Elise's quest, watching as Elise gathers clues and slowly comes to terms with family truths.

Both recently retired teachers, the two women pilgrimage to Elise's home town, seeking the answer to why Rose, her mother, ended up the way she did after menopause, housed in an asylum, committed by Elise's father long ago. Elise operates under the assumption that her own impending menopause will hold the same fate for her, so she is determined to decipher the curse that created Rose's isolation and insanity. Convinced there is more to the story, her long-harbored resentment of her mother's ineptitude during her childhood gets in the way of Elise's ability to seek direct answers from Rose. So the two women travel to the town where Rose grew up, sleuthing back through time in small town Indiana, where they happen upon Rose's two best friends.

And so the story unfolds, as Elise and Hat become acquainted with Stella May and Margaret of Bryson's Mill. Slowly, they trace Rose's history through time, piecing together events from her friends' memories and comparing them to Elise's childhood memories. Eventually, the horrible truth becomes apparent and all four women conspire delightfully to salvage what they can of Rose's sanity.

Nancy Werking Poling has written a truly wonderful story of women's friendship, courage and fortitude. Her characters come to life on the pages instantly, as she describes their foibles, quirks and mishaps. One feels included in the circle of women sitting on the kitchen floor as they perplexedly examine an antique lampshade. Well-developed dialogue echoes through the imagination long after one sets the book aside. Peppered throughout the book are poignant reminders of our history as the "weaker sex," while the tastefully executed melody of strength of these female characters shines steadily as the most resplendent theme. The shocking integrity of Rose's secret calls to mind other frightening stories, such as 'The Handmaid's Tale", but while such stories pack a powerful punch in their raw exposure of the ills of gender inequality in our culture, Nancy Werking Poling speaks powerfully from a humorous, warm, understated place of tenacity and endurance, the very epitome of divine feminine strength. You will laugh, cry and be buoyed up by this story; it's a must read.

Nancy Werking Poling lives in Black Mountain, NC. She is also the author of "Victim to Survivor: Women Recovering from Clergy Sexual Abuse". Out of the Pumpkin Shell, available in paperback and on Kindle, can be ordered through Amazon and your local book store.

Review written by Amy Allen, author of "Summoning the Mountains: Pilgrimage into Forty" published Sept 2012.
Rating: *****

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