Christy Lenzi’s debut novel Stone Field releases next March from Roaring Brook Press. It is a retelling of Emily Bronte’s classic Wuthering Heights, one of my favourite books. Though I am always curious about retellings that curiosity is frequently spiked with caution, particularly when it comes to my favourites. That said, when I read the summary to this book a few months back I immediately grew excited. Wuthering Heights retold in middle America during the beginning of the Civil War? It sounded like everything that I might want for this particular story. Fast forward to now, post-acquiring an advanced copy of the book, and I can say with assurance that this is one of the better retellings that I have read to date. Frankly, this book was everything that I hoped for and more. Wow, does Lenzi know how to re-craft a tale.
Free-spirited Catrina Dickinson has always loved Roubidoux Hollow, her family’s sorghum farm in Missouri. She loves the rolling hills and the wide-open skies and she loves being a part of them. Her brother, Henry, fears for Catrina’s wild ways, thinking that she needs more Christ in her life and less time to herself. Her father recognizes that Catrina is an independent and loves her like he loved her mother, who died due to an unfortunate accident. Catrina fights to keep her own darkness over her mother’s death at bay, toiling on her own “wild work” projects in the abandoned parts of the hollow. Catrina is ever-restless but that all changes the day a naked man turns up in the sorghum.
Catrina’s family shelters him and she renames him Stonefield, after the location they found him. Wild and exotic and suffering from amnesia, Catrina immediately feels a kinship with him. Her attraction kindles hotter when her brother voices his opposition to Stonefield’s presence, fearing for Catrina’s soul. Thus begins a beautiful and inspired twist on the original story; a tale of a country on the brink of war and of the intolerance that brought everyone there, free-folk and slave, black or white alike.
Lenzi has paid particular attentions to the root themes in the story; corruption of desire and covetous greed tinge these pages with their stain. Bigotry in all its forms is another powerful theme as well as the devotion to faith and religion to a person’s detriment. And of course there is love; powerful, consuming, awe-inspiring, soul-crushing love. That stands as the heaviest theme in this book — how love has the power to create, and simultaneously destroy, everything that it touches. Lenzi does not shy away from the dark places of the story but instead enhances them with a devotion that speaks legions of her. She clearly loves the source and that love translates well to this spin. Peppered throughout are beautiful and inspired passages that evoke the original text, passages the beg to be reread before moving onward…and it all comes together incredibly well. I am so pleased that she, of all people, gifted us with this tale.
Catrina herself is a phenomenal character; the best and the worst of Catherine Earnshaw shines through her veneer. She is an earthbound nymph, a bit of a pagan and a soulful will-of-the-wisp in human form. Her friendship with Effie, formerly Nelly Dean in Wuthering Heights, is a perfect mirror of her own inner chambers. Effie is the child of an African woman and a white missionary preacher, a woman in between two worlds herself. She wants to become a doctor and studies medicine, though she knows that it is impossible for a bi-racial person and a woman to do either thing. She and her sister, Lu, add perfect extra flavors to this book, both warm and bitter at times. Effie knows Catrina better than Catrina knows herself. Effie is her family in all ways but one, since she can’t marry into the family as she deeply wants to. Effie is Catrina’s perfect soul mate, even above Stonefield.
Stonefield, however, is Catrina herself. He is every scrap and cell of her, every nook and cranny. Their immediate desire explodes in this story, creating a whimsical and tense dynamic that overwhelms and overpowers the reader. How can we expect to have a love as fire-hot as theirs, a love that smothers everything else in its path? This element is so like the original that it’s hard to read at times, difficult in its honesty and very rough to swallow. We ourselves might never experience fascination like this, lust like this, adoration like this, torment like this. We might never feel the heart-break and the crush of another like this and that is one of the reasons that Wuthering Heights has endured for so long…that possibility of never and ever.
And Stone Field accomplishes all of this. Legions of this, in fact.
Lenzi has written a very uneasy book, a tale of longing, devastation, rape, tragedy, and hatred. In tandem, she has also penned a very beautiful tale, one that explores true love, supportive friendship, passion, acceptance, and kindness. She has honored Wuthering Heights and given something new to its legacy – a tale that stands firmly against it in grandeur and in scope.
I love this book, plain and simple. It’s jumped into my top favourite reads for the year and I can’t wait for you to read it. Whatever Lenzi does next I will read it. She has become autobuy for me, with one fell swoop, and I can’t wait to see where she treads next.
5 out of 5 stars.
* Stone Field releases March 29, 2016.
– Follow the Reader –