“I’m talking about you being damaged. I’m talking about the kind of damage that causes you to do the things you do. That’s the only reason I’m here. I think you’re mentally ill. You must be. I think you need help.” – Unthinkable, by Nancy Werlin
Please read the list on my website, Captive Thoughts, for all of the gory details in this novel, to decide if this is a clean enough book for you and yours.
This is my own personal review of this novel.
WARNING: Descriptions of rape, sexuality, and abuse – Not an article for children
Nancy Werlin. She was one of those teen fiction writers who, as a young adult, fascinated me.
I wouldn’t have called any of her novels my favorites. There was always something too cruel, too raw, and too blunt about her writing. There were things that caused me to squirm – realistic, dirty, gritty things in the hearts of human beings that she was able to point out and write boldly about. I valued her novels in the same way one would peruse a psychiatric journal for fun. It was like a train wreck you couldn’t look away from. One that left you a little more educated on the dark side of life.
Her book, The Killer’s Cousin, received an Edgar Award (named for Edgar Allen Poe, it is awarded to the best fictional mysteries). I was awed by the depths she went to to understand a human heart. Awed, but saddened, as none of her characters ever realized their own truly sinful nature and sought help from Jesus Christ, the healer of hearts.
Nancy Werlin’s books were part of my inspiration for my novel, Angel-Lover. Let’s take a troubled teen and bring him to his lowest, darkest, and most depressed moments. Except, in my book, I then have him logically look upward. I let him see that Jesus Christ is his only answer, otherwise life was meaningless.
When I found that Nancy Werlin had tried her hand at a fantasy series, I was excited. I was prepared for brutality and wicked villains as well as humanly evil protagonists.
No one is a “good guy” in a Nancy Werlin novel, and isn’t that realistic? For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)
The library only carried Unthinkable, the companion book to Werlin’s original, Impossible. It was able to stand alone, even if the reader had not read Impossible, so I checked it out.
And it disappointed on quite a few levels.
Nancy has given her main character a strange situation, but it’s a case that seems familiar to any of us who have turned on the news lately. Thinking about the Ariel Castro case, as well as the fact that Elizabeth Smart just released a book, Werlin’s character, named Fenella Scarborough, is a face and story we’ve seen on the news. Her situation is only exaggerated.
At barely seventeen years of age, enticed by her hearty laugh and physical beauty, (which seems to resemble his mother’s appearance? This is, sadly, never explained) a love-starved, wicked, abandoned “mud creature,” – a creature born of a human and a fairy – falls for her. Out of his lust for someone to care about him, and because his red-headed fairy mother abandoned him at birth and ignored him ever after, this man creature chose red-headed, happy-go-lucky Fenella to be his. After killing her fiancé, he whisks her away and curses her and all of her female descendants to serve as his slaves.
Before their eighteenth birthday, each girl, in the Scarborough line, falls pregnant, usually due to rape, and then, if they are not able to solve three riddles, they are brought to him to serve him until their own daughter turns eighteen. Then they are killed. Fenella, however, is cursed with longevity, so she gets to watch this horror over and over again for twenty generations, and it is implied that she herself is also the subject of sexual and emotional abuse during this entire period of four hundred years.
It’s a dire plight. Painful to think about. Yet I was prepared for the emotional aspect to be broken down competently and with insight into what a human being would actually do in this impossible scenario.
But, as Unthinkable begins, the curse has already been broken and Fenella has been freed from her fairy abuser. Now she just wants to die in peace and escape the cruel world she has been a part of for far too long. She says that “Life is death. Life is destruction. Life is meaningless.”
The queen of the fairies tells her that her only hope to break her longevity curse is to commit three acts of destruction on her surviving family. And, if she embarks on this quest and fails, they will end up back with the evil fairy captor, cursed once again. Fenella’s lust for death is so strong that she willingly takes this upon herself, instead of living out her days in peace and safety. She visits the last of her descendants and begins to destroy their lives.
Her list of destruction includes burning houses down, running over people with a car, attempting to kill pets, trying to seduce male members of the family, and kidnapping babies. Fenella is, at first glance, a pretty despicable character, yet she is one we see come out of abusive homes and into the foster care system far too often.
I think that Nancy Werlin has given us a scarred and broken character, something she is good at doing. However, she failed us by refusing to flesh Fenella out, to stop and tackle the heart issues, and to accurately point out the intensive help someone needs when they have been victims of abuse.
Fenella meets a man during her time of deceitful destruction with her family. He is a random veterinarian. And I emphasize random. The man has so little purpose in the story besides to be someone that gets Fenella’s sexual desires racing. It’s shocking.
I was convinced that the vet was really the evil fairy kidnapper. I was so sure that I had stumbled upon a seriously beguiling plot twist, that I kept reading when I probably should have closed the book.
What a novel that would have been, in my opinion! Fenella is held captive by a “man” whose parents abandoned him, who deemed him unworthy to survive due to his mixed “race,” and who is starved for love and affection. After years of rape and abuse, and seeing all of her descendants abused, Fenella longs for death to escape her shame and horror, even though she is freed from her captor. Yet, while pursuing death, she meets him in disguised form. He is tender, vulnerable, and kind. He woos her and she falls for him legitimately, only to find out she has an aggravated form of Stockholm Syndrome and the man has a real, albeit twisted, and heavily tainted love for her underneath his abusive behavior. And that, as she hurts and controls others, she is really no better than he at heart. She could then learn to forgive, learn to walk away, and truly free herself from the emotional captivity where she’s still a prisoner.
But NO. None of this is the case.
Walker, the vet, is just an ordinary man. Fenella and Walker barely even know each other’s first names before they’re kissing each other, feeling each other up, and leaping onto each other, discussing sex.
We see classic signs of the sexual victim here.
Fenella, for the first time in four hundred years, has found a man who SHE can control sexually. And she does so. Without even knowing him, learning to love him, or being honest with him, she pays attention only to his looks, uses him and throws herself on him, controlling every aspect of the relationship, forcing herself physically over and over again. Many times Walker is completely trapped by his own male lusts, angry and hateful that Fenella is so blatantly seducing him, yet powerless to turn away. Fenella has become the sexual abuser with a captive of her own. Thus the cycle continues.
Instead of this being a novel where Fenella discovers that about herself, mourns the sexual abusive circle of life that has continued, and comes to understand and forgive her captor, this instead reads like a borderline erotic novel. There are pages of selfish cruelty, where Fenella steals, lies, and destroys all to fulfill her own purposes, not repenting of her selfishness until the very end. Then, completely unrealistically, she is only spared from committing suicide due to a fairy prince feeling badly for her and giving her a simple chiding.
Fenella never sees the true error of her ways, never receives counseling over the abuse she has suffered, and instead rationalizes the cruelty she bestows upon her own family. In the end, instead of true repentance, we see her admit herself worthy of death, and then suddenly change her mind after the fairy prince’s small correction. She then chooses to return to her family and apologize, assuming she will continue to pursue and control the relationships around her, including that of the vet, Walker. Walker, himself, seems captivated by her for no reason at all, and is unable to pull himself away from being victimized by a very disturbed woman. We see no heartfelt soul-searching and no forgiveness come from the very bitter Fenella. No forgiveness of herself or her captor. The ending is very rushed.
The fairy queen, who has been helping and observing Fenella all of this time, has something wise to say to her at one point. When Fenella excuses her choices, saying her selfish destruction of those dearest her is for a good cause, the queen remarks, “Do you think that good intentions excuse bad action? Going into destruction, honorable or not – is it allowable to destroy one person to save many?” However, instead of convicting Fenella, who feels the rebuke keenly, she then goes on to nullify her words by saying that she is happy Fenella has taken control of her life, even if it means doing people evil. “Life changes people anyway. People are already damaged. And people get over it” the queen basically adds, her worldview completely devoid of hope. She condones Fenella’s selfishness with a shrug about humans always being able to recover. She feeds into Fenella’s self-centered resolve.
At the very end, Fenella throws a random reproof at the fairy kingdom for not caring for or helping her captor back when he was a child. This is an afterthought. Never is she truly sorry inside of herself for not pursuing her captor’s broken heart or his mother to repair the damage done to him. The evil fairy’s motives are never discussed. He dies instantly when she breaks the longevity curse, while calling out to her, “I always loved you! I would’ve loved you forever,” and she thinks, “Good riddance.” He is a horrible, terrible, creature, but any human being has the capacity to become a bully or be abusive. Fenella herself has already embraced the path of a bully and abuser.
What would have been more interesting is if she had pursued the abandonment angle, choosing to show her captor Christ’s forgiveness and to try to get him help. (It is implied that he was seriously alone and friendless.) His death seems futile, as Fenella learns not a single lesson from all of her ordeal, but turns into an abuser herself. Instead we see her living out her days in hatred and loathing of herself, him, and everyone around them. She is even jealous of the descendant who breaks the curse, instead of being relieved that she and hers are now freed. She thinks back to her original first daughter who hated her and wished her dead. It is the motivation for the entire book. In shame and loathing of herself, Fenella wishes herself dead to fulfill her daughter’s bitterness. Fenella’s sudden change of mind to live, at the end of the novel, seems completely out of place in an effort to throw up a sloppy happy ending.
A Christian influence, a look at heart attitudes, and a proper discussion of victim behavior could have saved this book. It would have been great for the characters to acknowledge their faults, see their sin, and change. Even just a realization that sins can be cyclical would have been profitable.
Instead, Unthinkable is a cruel, dark, erotic look at a victim-turned-abuser with no plans to truly change her heart. The fairy tale happy ending is a joke.