Through it a reader sees the author’s bold hopes, petty machinations, and outright manipulations in stark relief.
I’ve rambled before about expectations and how it’s nice to upset them. Mix things up. Make bold moves.
Well, UNDERTOW is a very bold move.
It moved the Dragonfly Series right out of YA and squarely into women’s fiction.
How could that be? you ask—firmly reminding me that the protagonist, Anna, is a high school senior.
99% of the time a high school age main character = YA, right?
Sure. I’d lay money on the table with those odds, but UNDERTOW isn’t actually about Anna—it’s about big plans, bigger lies and life-changing secrets.
This tale is really an intimate look at a troubled marriage written from three points of view, and the speakers are old journals. The voyeur in me was intrigued, but as you can guess, it was raw.
Yes, Anna is the reader, but she is a prop in the scheme.
We pick up the story with Anna being on her own after Christmas reading the three journals given her by Bill Kyser, Jack and Lucy’s father, at the end of DRAGONFLY. She begins with Meg’s journal—all shiny and bright with hope over her impending wedding to Bill—a marriage she secured by an ‘oops’ pregnancy (PSA: Don’t try this at home!) She assures Bill she’ll be able to manage housekeeping while he overloads on college coursework to get his foothold in business. See, Bill wants to develop the Alabama gulf coast. It’s his big dream, and Meg wants a comfortable life—with Bill. Now.
Yes. It is a setup for doom, kids.
Meg’s journal is anguish. Missing her husband as he works long, long hours, doubles up on classes to finish school in 2.5 years instead of 4. She tries to be happy, and fails—particularly wanting to have more babies to fill her days when their first boy goes off to school. Along the way she confides in Lexi/Alex LaSalle—her BFF. (For those who need to catch up, Lexi/Alex is also mother to Julian, Anna’s good friend who wants more.) Completely against Bill’s express wishes Meg tries for a second OOPS! And she succeeds, in both getting pregnant and completely alienating Bill. Especially problematic with twins, Jack and Lucy, on the way.
Bright, shiny Meg knows she’s wrong, but she is as selfish as any. Eventually Bill thaws, but things are never the way they were—yet Meg is finally realizing all of her dreams. Big house, beautiful family, and suddenly Lexi/Alex is pregnant—no Daddy to be found. Still she’s excited to have her friend join the Mommy club. Her journal ends with the revelation that Julian is not entirely fatherless—really.
Lexi/Alex’s journal is a study in naïveté. She embarks on her college studies in art and is promptly picked up by the resident scumbag painting instructor as his freshman plaything. Broken from that experience she moves to Atlanta to work in commercial art, but is worn by the long work days and inspiration-crushing competition. So, when Bill Kyser asks her to become the creative consultant for his real estate development company, she agrees to return home. She jumps into the job with both feet, working tirelessly with Bill on the interior and exterior concepts of the projects.
Surely nothing can go wrong spending countless hours with your best friend’s husband.
In truth it isn’t sordid, only sad. Sad that relationships change and people grow past their first love. Sad that decisions made in the half-aware high school world can affect so many loved ones later.
Bill Kyser’s journal is regret, plain and simple. Regret that his girlfriend is pregnant. Regret that he’s getting married following high school graduation. Regret that he has no time to be a father. Regret that he can’t realize his dream fast enough to be the husband and father he always wanted to be. And, eventually it is regret that he can no longer connect with the wife he never knew. He tries—and is blindsided by Meg’s ‘accidental’ pregnancy. Again.
To Bill this deceit is unforgivable. And, along the way he’s realized that he has serious feelings for Lexi/Alex. The kind he’d set all his big plans aside for, in fact. One quick tryst, and he’s ready to separate—not that Lexi/Alex will let him abandon Meg. She’d run first, to his great regret.
The climax comes three times in this story. Through all three points-of-view we experience Meg’s discovery of Bill and Lexi/Alex’s betrayal. It is cutting and acute and ends with a rash and final act that guarantees no happiness for the survivors.
Because time has passed. Nearly twenty years.
And Anna is now recruited to help bridge the chasm between Bill and Lexi/Alex. But what can she do? And, how will she keep these dark secrets inside when Julian is ready to move out of The Friend Zone?
UNDERTOW reveals much about life.
The danger of an undertow is how it can swiftly and silently take you under and steal your life away. One misstep and BAM!! your life is forever changed/altered/over, as you knew it.
Reading the close first-person accounts in UNDERTOW is not simply slowing for a peek at a wreck on the highway. It is understanding that a wreck is going to happen. It is watching the cars line up and begin their travels, hearing the songs playing on their radios, checking the texts the drivers won’t ignore, and then seeing each and every driver’s careful maneuvers collapse into a fiery catastrophe.
So, not really a beach read. And, not really YA, IMHO. There are some sexual references/situations, naturally, but (to me) its themes are out of the realm of what most teens would gravitate toward.
For the record–This advice is for MALES AND FEMALES alike: Do not get pregnant to ‘trap’ a partner or ‘save’ a marriage. Ever. This is the exact WORST thing to do—it complicates a relationship in a thousand different ways that you cannot predict and that may not be overcome. Having a baby is a life-altering event for, if no one else, the mother. Do so with eyes wide open. (This is my final PSA for the week.)
Is UNDERTOW at good story? Yes. In fact: YES! says it better. If it wasn’t written so close-to-the-bone we’d never feel it so deeply. Truly, there are so many people in this world who start out exactly like Bill and Meg and end up a broken couple. Probably someone you know, or did know back in high school…maybe even you?
For me, UNDERTOW is a lesson in “How not to structure a relationship.” Because, as Bill Kyser puts it to Anna, “The truth is always the right thing.”
I’ve given up more details about this story than usual—mainly because it is so unexpected.
What I didn’t expect in the reading? That I’d be eagerly awaiting the next installment—WATERCOLORS later this year—wherein Anna and Julian attempt a relationship. Guess that one will be more YA.
Other series books that had a raw, gut-wrenching, second novel? Diana Gabaldon’s DRAGONFLY IN AMBER from the OUTLANDER series—which is also told in flashback. And Suzanne Collins’ CATCHING FIRE is another prime example.
So, yeah. UNDERTOW is intense. It steals your breath away. It will be available July 18th and I’d set it on your TBR if you’re into TBR’s that is…
Perhaps WATERCOLORS will be as gentle as the name sounds…but, honestly, I wouldn’t expect it. Looks like Ms. Moore’s going to tear my heart out again.
It’s okay, I can take it. 🙂