In Reinventing the Rose, Kenneth J. Harvey has crafted a startling and unique story of a woman whose body and the pregnancy that lies within it are no longer her own. Harvey’s ability to create suspense through intimate details, unanswered questions and presences, is remarkable and lasting. By throwing splashes of color into a black and white landscape, Harvey knows how to manipulate a single, simple moment and give it the weight of the world.
Anna Wells’ relationship with Kevin is cold and loveless to say the least. When she finds out she’s pregnant with Kevin’s baby, her world is turned into something every woman fears—her body and her pregnancy is put on trial to be judged by a sexist justice system that has the power to force abortion. This novel gives the phrase ‘anything is possible’ entirely new meaning.
Like the situation with which Anna is confronted her landscape is not simply black and white but smeared with red, with “the pulse of fear.” In addition to the supernatural energies that help make this wholly original and controversial story, Harvey alludes to a historically chauvinistic justice system. Like a witch burning at the stake, a man yells “let her burn” when a woman catches herself on fire out of protest. The judge is described like a priest with his “black robes fanning around him as he makes his way . . . to his chambers.” There’s another nod to history when Anna notices “onwound coat hangers” in the old war barracks where the trial resumes. One can’t help but think of the many women who had illegal abortions and that famous picture of Geraldine Santoro after an illegal 1964 abortion that went terribly wrong. Anna, though, does not want an abortion, she wants to keep her child feeling “the magnetic sensation of an elevated perspective [tugging] at her core,” and we are immediately on her side.
The fetus, at every stage of growth, is described with pure precision and without sentiment yet we feel connected to it as a life, as a character, and like Anna we wonder what happens to “the potential energy of the life erased.” This book made me meditate on my own pro-choice beliefs, what it means to have life within, and how it would feel to have someone else make a decision to end it. I have read many novels and few have aroused visceral reaction in such a sharp and unforgettable way.
An Interview with Kenneth J. Harvey
While reading Reinventing the Rose, I kept seeing it cinematically. Can readers expect an adaptation?
I hope so, then I will be rich and buy an island, get fat, marry 100 women and then kill myself.
The events that take place in Bareneed cause the reader to question what’s real and what’s imagined, and even Anna’s sanity at times. Is this something you tried to create so we’d wonder if she actually was mentally stable and fit enough to be a parent?
Much of what any reader reads in a novel should be left to interpretation. That way the reader and writer create the book together.
The story exists in three colors most of the time—red, black and white—in that most scenes are dark, there’s white snow, red roses, blond hair, black hair, black eyes, red hair, etc. It’s an effective technique that creates an extremely eerie setting. What did you aim to achieve with that approach?
I never noticed this before, but it was obviously some sort of subconscious demon working to disgrace me, as I now feel like a fool not knowing why.
I had quite a few visceral reactions to some of the scenes, Anna’s experience in the doctor’s office during one of her exams being one of them. What kind of research did you do to prepare for this subject matter?
To research the material, I was a woman for a while, but I gave it up because the pay was too low and the men I dated were all bastards.