Connected Underneath – Linda Legters

Celeste, the wheelchair-bound narrator of Linda Legter’s novel Connected Underneath,  promises to tell us everything, even the parts too terrible to share. Then she admits “there, already: I’ve hardly begun and I’m already lying.” Whether or not Celeste’s lies are as pivotal to the story as she’d like to think is open to debate and, truthfully, she’s the least interesting part of the story, anyway. Connected Underneath cover

Celeste lives in Madena, a tiny town in upstate New York. She introduces the reader to the novel’s key players: Theo and Natalie – high school friends, although Theo had definitely hoped for more. Natalie, however, liked boys like Mike Teague, high school basketball star, because “Theo was from the wrong side of town, her side, and she wanted a different side.” When she becomes pregnant, Natalie turns to Theo for help and he ends up adopting her daughter, whom he names Persephone. (A fitting name, as it turns out -Persephone was the goddess of the underworld – because Seph, at fifteen, is a little off the rails.)

Theo and Seph are actually disconnected these days. Seph is in love with a girl called Krista, but she trades sex for tattoos. Billie, the tattoo artist, is “sweet, gentle, swift, so it never seemed like a very big deal, not even the first time, the time that drew blood.” Of course, Seph keeps the tattoos and the sex from her father, but even so, Theo is beginning to worry about his daughter; “he was sure his girl was in trouble.”

So that’s the impetus for a visit to Natalie’s house across town. She lives with her husband, Doug, and their son, Max. Natalie doesn’t really want anything to do with Theo and shows little interest in the daughter she gave up fifteen years ago. In fact, when Theo admits he’s afraid of losing her, Natalie’s response is callous and decidedly un-motherly: She tells him, “You’re too late. Not my fault.”

Connected Underneath is a story about secrets – those we keep from each other and those we keep from ourselves. It is also a story about the damage we can do, both willfully and inadvertently. Everyone in Connected Underneath seems to operate, ironically, without actually realizing how they are connected and when the secrets  bubble to the surface, discretion is abandoned and truth is used as a weapon.

Theo is definitely the most sympathetic character. Despite a fraught childhood, he has always tried to do the right thing. He loves his daughter, even if he isn’t quite sure how to keep her safe. Natalie is another story. I didn’t like her and also, more importantly, didn’t believe her. Not for a  minute. And then there’s Celeste. As she watches Theo’s world unravel, her world – miraculously – begins to right itself. Can’t say that I was all that invested in her, either.

On the plus side – Connected Underneath is an elliptical, strangely compelling story about the ways we try to save each other, even when we can’t. It is well-written, even if I didn’t believe in some of the characters. It is almost relentlessly grim, but sometimes life is just like that.

tlc logoThanks very much to TLC Book Tours for  inviting me to be a part of the book tour for Connected Underneath and to Linda Legters and Lethe Press for providing my review copy.

 

 

I Take You – Nikki Gemmell

tlc tour hostThanks to the folks at TLC, I’m back with another book by Nikki Gemmell. You’ll recall that I took a look at her novel With My Body last month and today I am going to talk about her book I Take You. Beginning with The Bride Stripped Bare, With My Body and I Take You form a trilogy of sorts, although the characters and plots don’t really overlap so each book could be read independently of the others. I Take You

I Take You is the story of Connie Carven, wife to Clifford, a banker who has been seriously injured in a skiing accident and can no longer – erm – perform certain husbandly duties. No matter, Cliff has found other ways to satisfy his wife, most of them involving his Mont Blanc pen and a wicked imagination. At first Connie seems like a willing participant in her husband’s increasingly perverse sexual games, but one night Cliff takes things a teensy bit  (okay, a lot) too far and something in Connie, I don’t want to say snaps – changes.

Truthfully, I didn’t get Connie’s relationship with Cliff. Like, at all. Pre-accident he was  “her American…someone to be laughed at and admired and feared in equal measure.” Cliff is over-the-top rich and Connie “grew quickly addicted to this way of living – loved the sparkly, unthinking splash of it.”

When she tries to explain her relationship with Cliff to her father she says:

“We’re happy , Dad. As we are. I’m his wife and I have a job to do. A very important one. Now more than ever. Only I can help him, only me. I’ve bcome crucial to him in a way that’s impossible to explain.”

We are meant to believe that Cliff’s accident was the impetus for her to fall in love with her husband because “it tipped their sex life into something else. Because Cliff gouged out – patiently, gently, beseechingly – the very marrow of his impenetrable wife. It had been the trigger that now tipped him into something else.”  But the thing is, I don’t see these two as having very much of anything at all except perhaps for a co-dependent relationship and a penchant for kinky sex. And I never saw Cliff as a nurturing, kind man and he can’t kiss worth a damn, apparently.

Then, matters get more complicated when Connie meets Mel – he’s the gardener who takes care of the private communal garden that belongs to the houses on their square. It was at this point that I had a ‘wait a minute’ moment. I Take You was starting to sound suspiciously like another book: D.H. Lawrence’s novel Lady Chatterly’s Lover.  According to the blurb on the back (which I hadn’t bothered to read) Gemmell was indeed inspired by Lawrence’s infamous book.

Everything you think is going to happen, happens. Mel and Connie start an illicit affair; Cliff gets all bent out of shape about it; Connie chooses personal happiness over marital responsibility.

So how does I Take You compare with the other erotica out there? Well, Gemmel’s writing is still lovely (although I think I might have appreciated this book a bit more if I’d had more of a breather between this one and With My Body.) It’s often quite graphic, so if that’s not your cup of titillation tea – perhaps this isn’t the book for you.

I can’t say I was quite as enamoured with I Take You as I was with With My Body. I may need a little while longer to figure out why Connie’s journey just didn’t resonate with me the way the narrator in With My Body did.