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The Furrows

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The Furrows - Namwali Serpell

Fiction, 268 pages

Named one of the best books of 2022 by The New York Times, The Furrows is a unique story about love, loss, grief, and memory. When Cee was twelve years old, she and her seven year old brother Wayne walked over to the beach. While there, Wayne got caught in the furrow of the waves and Cee watched him die. His body, however, is never found, leaving unanswered questions of whether he is really dead or just missing. The first half of the book follows Cee’s grief through the recounting of  different situations in which Wayne dies again and again. In doing this, Serpell twists reality to make the reader question what is real and what is not, and although Cee insists that her brother is dead, these instances make the reader wonder if this is even true. 

The second half of the book breaks dramatically from the first when Serpell introduces an adult named Wayne who looks very similar to the one that was lost. This Wayne is obsessed with finding Cee’s Wayne, and follows her around the country looking for clues. The introduction of this character is a bit confusing, and I began to question who was dead, alive, and what was going on. In some ways, however, this book is not about trying to figure out what is going on. In a frequently quoted line from the book, Cee tells the reader that she wants to tell you how it felt, not what happened, and the introduction of this alternative Wayne feels like a manifestation of Cee’s attempts to cope. If it wasn’t obvious already, the plot of this book is extremely difficult to describe and there is a lot of nuance that is difficult to unpack within the framework of traditional storytelling. What I can say, however, is that Serpell writes with immense empathy and creativity about a tough subject. The structure of the novel is unique and it is a book that made me think more deeply about stylistic choices than I typically do. 

Rating: 8.5/10
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Namwali Serpell has written a genre-blending book that explores grief. Cassandra Williams is twelve; her little brother, Wayne, is seven. One day, when they’re alone together, there is an accident and Wayne is lost forever. His body is never recovered. The missing boy cleaves the family with doubt. Their father leaves, starts another family elsewhere. But their mother can’t give up hope and launches an organization dedicated to missing children.

Through experimental fiction, Serpell’s main character is able to relay in a clear and concise manner, not necessarily the events that occurred, but instead the emotion that emerged as a result of those events. I recently spoke with Namwali Serpell about The Furrows and all that went into it. Here’s our conversation.
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I got about halfway through The Furrows and had to put it down. I found myself drifting, having trouble following the story line as well as caring for Wayne. I really appreciate her portrayal of grief in the first part of the book. But the second part got too weird for me.
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When a girl is 12 she goes swimming in the ocean with her brother who is 7. A wave comes, her brother vanishes, and she gets the blame. As she goes on through life she keeps meeting men who bear a starling resemblance to her brother, some even sharing his name. A bold, heart-rending, and magical portrait of loss and mourning.
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An emotional story of grief and loss.  I wasn’t crazy about part 2 however, it felt a little “off” to me.  
Many thanks to Random House and to NetGalley for providing me with a galley in exchange for my honest opinion.
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I'm glad I stuck with this novel. I wasn't sure I could finish it at first. It begins with pain, repetitions of pain, and meditations on pain, with dramatic scenes of injury--possibly imagined, but also possibly real?--that are brushed off by Cassandra's coping mechanisms and internalization of a lifetime of guilt, pain, and its constant reminders. 

"I don't want to tell you what happened. I want to tell you how it felt." This first sentence is an appropriate refrain for the currents of emotions that rush and repeat throughout the novel. The novel's narrative refocusing in the second part was refreshing and invigorating, a perfect hook to hold my interest and propel me to finish reading.

Another one of those novels that I'll be thinking about for a long time, both the experience of reading it as well as how it made me feel.
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Cassandra and her younger brother Wayne went swimming one summer near their family's summer home and only Cassandra returns. The unforgettable story that follows is a beautifully written reflection of grief, family, identity, and what it means to find footing in the sudden and violent upheaval of unspeakable loss. Serpell is a vivid and and evocative writer and this book is for readers who enjoyed her remarkable debut, The Old Drift, as well as readers who want to explore grief through fiction.
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The first part of this book was like a frustrating Groundhog’s Day; it kept basically telling the same story but never really getting anywhere. Just when I was ready to be finished with it altogether, the story switched completely, almost like two short stories sharing some of the same characters. 
It was hard to follow at times, and boring at others. Mainly, I’m irritated that I spent as much time as I did reading this. It was drawn out and unsatisfying. 
Thanks to #netgalley and #hogarthpress for this #arc of #thefurrows in exchange for an honest review.
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A novel that is about grief and how it changes us - time collapses, stories change, we forget who we were and sometimes who we are. The language in this book is beautiful, so even when things are unclear the words themselves carry the reader along, as we search along with the narrator.
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Published by Hogarth on September 27, 2022

Cee watched her younger brother get caught in the furrows while swimming in the sea. She rescued Wayne (or at least his body) but nearly drowned, passing out on the beach. When she woke up, a man in a blue windbreaker drove her home, then disappeared. Cee had no idea what became of Wayne.

Cee was walking to school with Wayne when a car struck him. The driver was wearing a blue windbreaker. He carried Wayne home. Cee went to the bathroom but the man was gone by the time she finished. Cee had no idea what became of Wayne.

Cee was watching Wayne enjoy a ride on a carousel when he simply disappeared from his horse. Yes, a man with a blue windbreaker appears.

Cee is Cassandra Williams, the product of an interracial marriage. She narrates different versions of Wayne’s disappearance. Each story unfolds with dream-logic, details changing as the story progresses. Therapists have no success finding a useful memory, a failure that they attribute to a traumatic event that Cee must have buried. Yet from conversations with reliable sources, it seems that some of the details are true. Wayne disappeared. His body has never been found. Cee handed a blue windbreaker to her father. A pocket in the jacket apparently contained a clue to its owner.

As a young adult, Cee sees Wayne in crowds. She writes his name without realizing it. Cee is sure that Wayne died when was 7 and she was 12, but her mother is convinced that he is still alive. If he’s alive, she can’t blame Cee for killing him.

Cee’s mother has started a foundation called Vigil to support parents of missing children — parents who refuse to accept that their kids are probably dead. She is one of those grieving parents who has made a lucrative career for herself by exploiting tragedy. Perhaps that’s why she can’t admit that Wayne is gone; the media love the missing children of white mothers, but a dead black kid is just a statistic.

The Furrows is a novel of ambiguity. What happened to Wayne? Is he alive or dead? Did he disappear in each of the ways that Cee describes, perhaps in alternate realities? Is the young black man who took the name Wayne the real Wayne Williams and, if so, why do Cee and her parents fail to recognize him, despite the startling resemblance between Wayne’s father and the new Wayne? Why is the new Wayne following Cee and insinuating himself into her life?

A jarring change in the point of view occurs when the narrator shifts from Cee to the young man who calls himself Wayne. The new Wayne tells stories about being orphaned when his parents were murdered in bed, stories about life on the streets, stories about prison. Stories about going to school with a kid named Wayne.

The new Wayne’s mentor spouted glib theories about time that add to the novel’s ambiguity; in the realm of theoretical physics, time is ambiguous. The new Wayne seems to have alternate realities of his own; he sees himself on video stomping a victim during a fight but is sure he wasn’t there.

More interesting than the novel’s issues with time are its issues with race. Wayne’s white mother can’t accept his death, but his black father tells Cee “for us, death is everywhere.” When Cee’s mother accuses the new Wayne of stalking the family, it’s clear that the police will take her side to the detriment of the new Wayne.

Ambiguous novels sometimes fail to resonate with me. The Furrows had me scratching my head at times. I’m not sure what to make of the emphasis on time. I think Namwali Serpell tries to make a larger point about living in the moment, paying attention to life, but I’m not sure if that is her intent. I didn’t understand the ending at all. Still, the ambiguity prompted me to think about deeper meanings. This clearly isn’t the kind of ambiguity that signals an author who doesn’t know what she wants to say. Readers who give the novel a second reading (or a very close first reading) might unpack more of its secrets.

The story makes insightful points about the impact of race and class on grieving and socially acceptable responses to loss. Other readers might find other insights. In the end, some novels succeed because they make the reader feel (in the words of new Wayne) “a certain kind of way.” I’d put The Furrows into that category.

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Grief is a terrible and wondrous thing. No two people go through the same, and it often comes in ebbs and flows to make it difficult to manage and understand. For Cassandra the loss of her brother and then not knowing what happened has led her to spend most of her life searching and feeling as though he is there. The first part of the book is narrating her voice, and helping you understand how she feels about this event and going through life this way. Things get a little more confusing when the narrator switches to Amanda seems to have some connection to her brother that is shadowy at best. I really like the idea and topic of the book, but there were times where the flowery language and overworked pros really made it difficult to follow and appreciate. I was bummed because I really love the authors first book, but while this was not a complete loss for me, I did not hit a chord with me as a reader.
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At the age of twelve Cassidy, 'Cee' or just 'C' loses her brother Wayne in a swimming accident, he was seven. Cee feels his death but she doesn't actually see him drown and his body is never recovered. 
What follows is a family and personal turmoil leading to a path of self destruction, guilt, shame, remorse, changed family ties and ultimate grief. 

The first part of the book relives the tragic event numerous times varying the circumstances of Wayne's death and always ending with his disappearance, as clearly stated what is important is not what happened but how it felt. Except that the trauma is bad enough the first time around, and becomes a bit excessive when the reader needs to experience so many variations of the common theme.  The purpose of the multiple cycles seems unclear, however after this part is finished one seems to have a pretty in depth knowledge of Cassy, her deep grief and her upbringings.

Then part two begins, one might have expected to see her become an an adult and work on the family relationships but this is not a coming of age novel. A new character is introduced, who becomes the focus of the novel. Only marginally the two stories interlace. It felt like both parts are forced to belong to the same book. The writing style and the tone used in these chapters are very different from what was written in part one, the points of view change rapidly; it is a strange literary approach.

I feel the author tried to create a very deep work about grief and emotional survival, she writes to impress, showcasing her mastery skills that undoubtedly are outstanding. This was not a very memorable book for me, and I am afraid that I probably will forget about it soon.

Thank you Netgalley and Random House for providing an advance reader copy in exchange for an honest review. #TheFurrows #NetGalley
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This book was very confusing in the beginning and I almost walked away, but once I was able to figure out what was going on, I was glad I stayed with it - a story of raw grief and levels we will go to as humans to keep our loved ones near - a read that will stay with me.
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When Cee Williams was 12 she carried her 7 year old brother Wayne from the ocean. Cee then lost consciousness and Wayne disappeared. Their mother believes that Wayne is still alive, but his disappearance accentuated rifts in the family. Cee can’t remember what happened to Wayne, and even after many years of therapy she still imagines that she sees Wayne everywhere. Then a man named Wayne Williams enters her life. 

I enjoyed “The Old Drift” by this author, but this book felt like the author was trying too hard to create an inventive structure. One of the problems is that it felt like 2 books. Most of the book focuses on Cee and how she copes with grief (and with the suggestion that she had something to do with Wayne’s disappearance). There is an abrupt shift in tone when the second Wayne appears. Part of his storyline appeared in the short story “Will Williams”. I liked that story, which was based on a Poe story, but it doesn’t fit at all with the Cee storyline. The book was already juggling grief, race and family dynamics. It really didn’t need to add Poe’s doppelgänger plot too. 

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.
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WOW! I was not expecting this story to take so many unexpected turns.  The writing is brilliant and the story will stay with you long after you have read the last word.
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Special thanks to Random House Publishing  and Netgalley for the ARC of this book.

This book is surely about grief and loss but the line "I don't want to tell you what happened, I want to tell you how it felt", drew me in  because I definitely have had a ton of loss and grief. So I thought this opening was going to be helpful to me because I can't stand self-help books so I was hoping for some comfort here.

This book surely was thought provoking the way we interpret grief when revisiting trauma and how we get confused when trying to remember and sometimes get it wrong and don't remember the way things happened.

I think other readers will feel differently, and in more than just one way based on the amount of trauma and grief in their life. it just felt a little sad and a little cold to me. However, it was okay.
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The Furrows is one of the hardest books I've ever read. Not only because it required immense concentration (it did), but also because the subject matter is very very difficult. That being said, this book is so worth the hard things. It is beautiful. It is perfect.
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Exploring grief through the eyes of sister Cassandra, the loss of her brother Wayne affects everything throughout her life. Meeting a stranger who is searching for his own place in the world makes Cassandra everything about her loss, including that the stranger's name is Wayne. Excellent writing.
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Extraordinarily affecting! A challenging yet moving tale about grief and how loss can cleave families. Serpell's writing is lovely and evocative.
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Namwali Serpell’s The Furrows opens with an epigraph taken from Moncrieff and Kilmartin’s translation of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time: The Fugitive:   “. . . people do not die for us immediately,  but remain bathed in a sort of aura of life which bears no relations to true immortality but through which they continue to occupy our thoughts in the same way as when they were alive. It is as though they were travelling abroad.” 
The story opens with Cassandra (Cee), an adult narrator, stating her intention—to explain not what happened years before when she was twelve, but how it felt.  While alone on a Delaware beach with her seven-year-old brother Wayne, the boy drowned, leaving no body.  Cee returned without him to the vacation home her college professor father and artist mother had rented for the summer. 

Granted, Cee does begin by telling what happened—at least, a version of what happened as she experienced it.  She also recounts the various ways her parents, a summer neighbor, a policewoman, and Grandma Lu reacted as well as conversations with Dr. Rothman, a therapist she began seeing two years after Wayne drowned and who would turn out to be the first in a succession of therapists.

Cee’s opening account seems realistic enough until it doesn’t.  As Cee views events at different ages, details change, raising questions in the reader’s mind about what really happened.  As daughter of a black father and white mother, Cee’s mixed-mixed race identity sometimes comes into play but never takes over the story.  As she announces at the outset, this is not the story of what happened, but a dramatization of how it felt, of how people experience and deal with grief.  Readers must keep that focus in mind.

Thanks to NetGalley and Hogarth/Random House for an advance reader copy of Namwali Serpell’s creative and engaging new novel.
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