cover image Catherwood


Marly Youmans. Farrar Straus Giroux, $20 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-374-11972-0

As she proved in her first novel, Little Jordan, Youmans can employ lyrical prose and a terse narrative to produce powerful writing. As a young child, the eponymous heroine, dirty and half-wild, was sold to a kindhearted young gentleman named Lacey Grevel, as a ""gift"" for his mother, who had lost her three daughters to plague. Raised at stately Grevel House, Catherwood was civilized and loved by Elisabeth Grevel, then married to a decent young man named Gabriel Lyte in 1676. The new couple sail for Virginia, but they land instead in ""Neue York"" and settle near ""Albanie"" to carve a living from a fairly hospitable land. Then one day Cath and her baby, Elizabeth, stray into the unpeopled wilderness, where Catherwood's character undergoes a new and agonizing refinement. Her story draws strength from the stark, simple language Youmans employs to describe both the hardships and delights of solitude, and the deep, uncomplicated joy of the mother-child bond when it is allowed to flourish uninterrupted. Despite the dangers of an utterly New World, Cath and Elisabeth make their lives bountiful and even happy as they search for a sign of human habitation, always believing they are bound by invisible strands to their beloved Gabriel. When winter comes and their idyll turns to ordeal and tragedy, Catherwood's staunchness in the face of death earns her a ravishing and near-miraculous ending, a second rescue, as it were. This is a subtle but magnetic novel, at once a fable, a historical romance (with time and place authentically and indelibly rendered) and a study of motherhood's most primitive impulses, whose elegant language will reward patient reading. (May)