I’m delighted that Anne Goodwin, author of Underneath, makes a welcome return to Linda’s Book Bag today. Anne previously wrote a smashing guest post all about how we are shaped by the events in our lives that you can read here. Today, Anne is exploring the role of family dynamics in Underneath.
Published by Inspired Quill on 25th May 2017, Underneath is available for purchse in e-book and paperback here.
He never intended to be a jailer …
After years of travelling, responsible to no-one but himself, Steve has resolved to settle down. He gets a job, buys a house and persuades Liesel to move in with him.
Life’s perfect, until Liesel delivers her ultimatum: if he won’t agree to start a family, she’ll have to leave. He can’t bear to lose her, but how can he face the prospect of fatherhood when he has no idea what being a father means? If he could somehow make her stay, he wouldn’t have to choose … and it would be a shame not to make use of the cellar.
Will this be the solution to his problems, or the catalyst for his own unravelling?
Steve’s Mother and Sisters in Underneath
A Guest Post by Anne Goodwin
One of the themes I like to explore in my fiction is how the dynamics of our families of origin shape the adults we become. Families are fascinating, particularly when each member’s memories and interpretation of events is different, rendering the truth an enigma.
Growing up with a mother, older twin sisters and no dad, it’s little wonder my narrator, Steve, perceives girls as more powerful than boys. Grieving for her husband – the father who died before Steve was born – his mother is emotionally absent, leaving him in the custody of his sisters while she retreats to her room (p58-9):
The twins are supposed to watch me, but they’re outside playing a skipping game. I can hear their chanting through the kitchen window.
Miss Fothergill says that if another child hurts you, you should tell a grown-up. It’s not snitching, especially if they’re bigger than you and ought to know better. I get down from the table and go out into the hallway.
Our stair-carpet is dark blue with pale blue discs and rings. I like to count them when I go up and down but the number comes out different every time. I tell Mummy they’re pictures of Saturn, but Celia and Polly say they’re nothing at all.
There are four doors at the top of the stairs, all painted light brown: my room; Mummy’s room; the bathroom; the twins’ room with its stick-on No Boys Allowed sign. I sit cross-legged on the floor outside Mummy’s room and listen. Someone’s crying inside.
I push back my sleeve and examine my arm. It still prickles, but the marks have gone from where Celia jabbed me with the pin of my Sheriff’s badge. I think of when Mrs Hetherington says, You’re the man of the house or when Mummy calls me My Little Man.
I hear the bedsprings creaking, but Mummy doesn’t come out. I picture her lying on top of her continental quilt that’s sprigged with lavender. She’s clutching her hankie, her eyes rimmed with red.
When my legs go dead, I shuffle downstairs on my bottom. I get up to two hundred and fifty-seven Saturns, and still Mummy doesn’t leave her room.
Neglected themselves, the twins, although six years older, don’t want to be burdened by their younger brother and bully him relentlessly, albeit in ways they’re unlikely to be found out. They’re like “a two-headed monster” and it’s not until late in the novel, when the siblings are middle-aged, that Steve can begin to perceive his sisters as individuals. Unfortunately, by then, it’s too late. Imprisoning a woman in a cellar is far worse than anything Steve suffered as a child.
The novel being narrated from Steve’s point of view, the reader has only his interpretation of events to draw on. Nevertheless, there are strong indications that his sisters don’t perceive the past as negatively as he does. When, along with Steve’s new girlfriend, Liesel, they meet for an evening meal, they tell her (p101):
“It’s like he’s blotted out his childhood.”
Liesel grinned: “Was it so gruesome?”
“Not a bit of it,” said Polly. “He was spoilt rotten.”
Celia leant in closer: “Imagine it! The only boy. Never had to lift a …”
“Finger,” Polly continued. “We’re six years older. It’s like he’s had …”
“Three mothers,” said Celia. “Waited on hand and …”
“Foot,” said Polly. “We were …”
“Besotted with him, of course,” said Celia.
His mother, in contrast, appears to have no need to airbrush the past, although the twins, as well as the staff of the care home where she now lives, attribute her hostility to dementia. Not having seen her for some time, on his first visit, she fails to recognise him and, when he introduces her to Liesel, she sends him off, as if he’s a waiter, to make the tea. On his next visit, when he’s in need of advice about Liesel’s sudden insistence they start a family, she seems particularly lucid, although far from friendly (p138):
Spittle gathered in the corners of Mum’s mouth. Pulling away … and pushing against the arms of the chair, she shuddered to her feet. The stringy sinews stood out on her forearm as she raised her fist. “I never wanted that baby,” she screamed. “Horrid little squirt killed my husband!”
To Steve, this is the most honest thing he’s ever heard, but there’s no chance of a rational conversation about it. After years of denying his own vulnerability, while he might be open to discussion, others aren’t. Even when his sister acknowledges the bullying, she’s no interest in hearing his perspective (p246):
Celia took a tissue from her bag. “It’s better if you don’t interrupt. We should’ve had this conversation years ago. We gave you hell, Polly and me, and it wasn’t your fault.”
His childhood hasn’t made Steve a criminal, but it has contributed to the particular pattern of pathology that allows him to act immorally when the occasion arises. If you’re interested in this theme, there’s more in some of my other guest posts:
Or, of course, you can read the book!
(We can indeed Anne!)
About Anne Goodwin
Like Steve, Anne Goodwin used to like to travel, but now she prefers to stay at home and do her travelling in her head. Like Liesel, she’s worked in mental health services, where her focus, as a clinical psychologist, was on helping people tell their neglected stories to themselves. Now that her short fiction publication count has overtaken her age, her ambition is to write and publish enough novels to match her shoe size. Underneath is her second novel; her first, Sugar and Snails, was shortlisted for the Polari First Book Prize. Anne lives in the East Midlands and is a member of Nottingham Writers’ Studio.
There’s more with these other bloggers too: