Robert Coover is one of my favorite writers. With quirky, mythical tales of magic realism, it’s no wonder he endorsed The Mothering Coven, the fabulist debut novel by Joanna Ruocco. Throughout this slight, but fertile novel, Ruocco plays with language and creates an inventive world filled with richly crafted characters.
Mrs. Borage is about to turn 100 and she is the mother figure in a household of seven women – artists, scientists and witches alike. As the women prepare for Mrs. Borage’s birthday, they dream and wonder where their missing housemate Bertrand disappeared to – perhaps she is in the North Pole or on the Trans-Siberian railroad or on Taketomi Island?
The women love eating cinnamon toast, discussing politics, preparing for the monumental party and receiving visits from the vigorous and (wonderfully named) Ms. Kidney and the shy, half-blind neighbor enamored with Mrs. Borage, Mr. Henderson. In particular, Ms. Kidney, who loves to yell, is a force to be reckoned with as “[s]he trudges into the house in her parka and her great swamp boots. Only Ms. Kidney could get away with drinking Honey Bishops from the ladle! She stands by the pot, drinking and laughing. She throws her parka on the rug and her frozen purple overalls start to steam.”
Ruocco paints her pages with bright, strong women who clearly revel in mischievous and playful language:
“I caught a herring once,” announces Mrs. Borage, “in Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg.” Mrs. Borage sits down. “That felt wonderful,” says Mrs. Borage.
Some other memorable characters from this motley coven include Agnes, a paleozoologist devoted to witchcraft; Hildegard the foreign student; Bryce the painter; and Dorcas, who dabbles in shamanism. Will Bertrand return in time for the birthday party or will her absence threaten the stability of the household? In Ruocco’s deft hands, The Mothering Coven takes readers on a delightful romp through a uniquely imagined universe.