“Impossible” by Nancy Werlin

22 Jan


"Impossible" is National Book Award Finalist Nancy Werlin's latest novel. Although I thought there were some flaws here — hello, draggy passages and flat characterizations! — overall this is a decent, generally entertaining novel.

Lucinda "Lucy" Scarborough is our girl here, and she's a 17 year-old senior at a Massachusetts high school. Lucy's life with foster parents Soledad and Leo is pretty ordinary. She runs track, has a gossipy BFF named Sarah, one of those "he's only a friend" types (as if!) in Zach, and an eagerly anticipated prom date with sweet band geek Gray Spencer. The only hitch in Lucy's life involves her biological mom, Miranda, a wayward drifter who shadows Lucy, hurling the occasional invective, bottle, or ominous warning her way. Miranda lost her mind around the time of Lucy's birth, and she's never been able to establish any kind of normal relationship with her daughter. As for Lucy's birth father? We soon learn that's an awfully complicated story. And by "complicated," I mean the ancient, generation-spanning curse type of complicated!

Yes, indeed, Lucy is fated to become an eternal possession, the icky "true love," of a swanky, mystical creep known as the Elfin Knight. In what struck me as an exceptionally jarring passage, Lucy is raped by an Elfin Knight-possessed Gray on prom night, later discovering that she's pregnant. (Don't even get me started on the Elfin Knight switching Lucy's morning after pills or Lucy's glossed-over acknowledgment that raising a child presents nearly insurmountable obstacles for most teens; there are vaguely distasteful messages sent to teen girls in this novel that I'd prefer not to dwell upon.) Long story short, Lucy decides to keep the baby, despite knowing that upon the infant's birth, she, like Miranda before her, will surely lose her mind.

Of course, because this is a novel, there is an escape clause. While I doubt many members of this book's audience have even heard of the old pop/folk duo Simon & Garfunkel, their hit song "Scarborough Fair" plays a central role in the story. Well, I should correct that; a version of their song, with modified lyrics, is the star here. If Lucy can complete three impossible tasks highlighted in the song — among them, weaving a seamless shirt with no needles and using a goat's horn to plow an acre of seaside land … you know, the usual! — she will break the Elfin Knight's curse and hang onto her life, happiness, and sanity.

There's a cool, clever premise here, as Lucy, her foster folks, and the dreamy, sturdy Zach race against time to crack these puzzles. I liked how none of the characters needed too much convincing to buy into the ancient curse. We're already suspending reality here as readers; there's simply no need to delay the good stuff with forced incredulity, as too often happens in stories with fantastical elements. The Elfin Knight is both equally charming and repulsive, making him an interesting foil for Lucy's gang. I also found myself caught up in the tangible sense of danger here, as Lucy's pregnancy amounts to a ticking clock on her own survival. The whole premise of "Impossible" is so interesting and unusual that it almost makes up for the book's flaws.

Yup, I said "almost." While there are many strong elements, my attention wandered at some points. Whole passages were painfully tedious, particularly in the beginning, and I felt little connection to Lucy throughout the story. She seemed like more of a superteen — smart, pretty, athletic, kind, heroic — than a real person. Even in the aftermath of her rape, with teen motherhood looming before her, she never changed much. Lucy is this wonderful, special girl before these life-shattering events, and afterward she's just more of the same. To be honest, this idealization is the same issue I had with Zach, who, naturally, becomes the pregnant Lucy's love interest. Zach is an older college student and longtime family friend now living with Lucy's folks. He is so irritatingly perfect, from his chiseled body and tousled hair to his strong, caring, and respectful nature, that he, too, seemed utterly artificial. The stretches where Lucy and Zach repeatedly express their love to each other just about set my teeth on edge, not unlike any number of "Oh, I love you, too, Bella!" moments throughout the entire Twilight Saga, but especially in "Breaking Dawn."

In the end, I was hoping for a bit more twisty, engaging fun from such a strikingly original premise, and I was disappointed. If you can get past some of the draggy sections and overlook the one-note characterizations — not to mention the bizarre shifts in tone relating to sexual violence at several junctures in the story — then you'll probably be just fine with "Impossible." As I said on top, this story is essentially a good read. For me, it simply could have been so much better. If you give "Impossible" a try, I'd say the themes and sexual references here indicate more of a high school audience. I hope you like it more than I did!

1 Comment

Posted by on January 22, 2009 in Uncategorized


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One response to ““Impossible” by Nancy Werlin

  1. Anonymous

    June 21, 2009 at 4:20 am

    when does impossible by nacy werlin come out in austraila


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