'Strange Inheritance of Leah Fern' - novelist Rita Zoey Chin's inspiring tale

  • by Laura Moreno
  • Tuesday October 11, 2022
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author Rita Zoe Chin
author Rita Zoe Chin

Rita Zoe Chin is the author of her groundbreaking and highly acclaimed memoir "Let the Tornado Come" about the incredible power of horses to heal personal trauma. It is a tough act to follow, but she's done it with this strange and inspiring tale of alienation and belonging that spans the continental United States.

Chin's truly luminous writing delivers the unexpected at every turn. The themes of the story are derived from her own childhood and are recounted with plenty of suspense, culminating with a dramatic yet hopeful ending. Equal parts feminist fiction, mystery, thriller, crime fiction, friendship fiction, LGBTQ fiction, and fantasy, all things considered, "The Strange Inheritance of Leah Fern" perhaps best fits into the new genre of self-help fiction.

Oddly, there was no record of Leah Fern's birth. Her mother was a traveling circus performer, and had her on the go in a carnival trailer with magic as her only anesthesia. Soon the sensitive young child was put to work at an early age, billed as the very best fortuneteller in the world even with no experience. And to her own surprise most of all, she began telling people's fortunes, often with amazing accuracy.

When Leah Fern was only six years old, however, her mother struck her a betrayal that would haunt her for most of the rest of life by abandoning her to the care of a kindly old circus gentleman who in time died and also left her to fend for herself.

When a lawyer delivers a mysterious black box, literally, as her inheritance from a recently deceased neighbor she hardly knew, he could not possibly know the good deed he is doing by thwarting Leah Fern's intricate plans to commit suicide that day. It is her twenty-first birthday and chosen death day. Her careful plans include a death dance to the music of Rage Against the Machine, which she had just begun when she hears the knock at the door. Intending to ignore it, she finds she just can't, just as she cannot help opening the package she intended to also ignore.

The most intriguing part of her inheritance, aside from a check for $9,999, is a curious letter, the first letter she has ever received, that offers her the chance to embark on a cross-country road trip. At that point, she puts her hand into the box, she accidentally pricks her finger on the unseen razor-sharp beak of a stone crow at the bottom of the box, which immediately makes her feel heavy and woozy, as if the object were imbued with strange powers.

And just like that, fate intervenes, prompting Leah to drop her macabre plans. The day instead marks the beginning of an unforgettable journey that enables her to discover who her mother really was, to heal the broken mother/daughter bond, and to finally have the courage to love.

"The Strange Inheritance of Leah Fern" by Rita Zoe Chin, $21.59, Melville House



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