Saturday, January 22, 2011

TETHERED by Amy MacKinnon (2008) Random House

Has a book ever made its way to your hands and then inched its way into your heart, leaving an indelible mark?

After hearing about TETHERED from the Friday Reads meme on Twitter I special ordered a copy from one of my favourite independent booksellers here in Toronto and I picked it up on Thursday after work. Because Nicholas Hoare Books is down at the foot of the city, I ended up taking the Queen streetcar home which gave me almost an hour to immerse myself in the exquisitely created broken lives of Amy MacKinnon's characters, characters who seemed so frankly familiar to me.

The tenderness with which protagonist Clara, a mortician, prepares the corpse of a cancer victim in the opening scene had me weeping openly, not only from the care with which the moment is rendered but from the recognition of such an imagined kindness performed on the bodies of my brother and my grandparents after their deaths. Those unfamiliar with the business of preparing bodies for burial or cremation might find the visceral description almost untenable, but as the title implies, as a reader you will be tethered to that moment.

There were revelations throughout this sensitive and shocking novel that I felt as if MacKinnon were peeling back secrets of my past, my family's history. Like Clara, my mother lost her mother as a young child. In fact, her only distinct memory is approaching the open casket, with violets gripped in her furled three-year-old hand, made to put the flowers in with her mother's cancer-ridden chilled corpse, grazing those frozen fingers. And, like Clara, I too tore out clumps of hair as a child (apparently in my sleep), leaving spongy patches, scalp tattoos barely hidden by skillful parts. Something I had entirely forgotten until I read about it here and recognized myself with horror.

In funeral home director Linus, MacKinnon has created someone immediately knowable to me: a man who understands the privilege of his position and his role as pragmatic comforter in chief to the recently bereaved. A man who can reassure those in acute emotional distress because he has walked the walk himself through the unexpected loss of his only son.

When Clara discovers Trecie, a neglected little girl who seeks refuge in the funeral home, she reluctantly befriends her, wary of the emotional truths that will be revealed, both about Trecie and about herself. And, when Detective Mike Sullivan, no stranger to loss himself, starts prodding Clara about an unidentified child's corpse she prepared three years' previous, she finds her life shift in a profound way.

From the opening gambit to the immensely satisfying end, with life-threatening and life-changing detours along the way, TETHERED is a haunting debut, rife with man's inhumanity to man and the determination of those who are essentially good and true to abide by what is right.

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