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Under Currents


Under Currents

UNDER CURRENTS is Nora Roberts at her best. The list of books by this prolific author fills four pages before the start of the novel, and The New Yorker called her "America's most popular novelist." In her latest story, Roberts tackles an important issue that is too often swept under the rug --- abuse. Children, women and men suffer from abuse by family, partners, or casual boyfriends and girlfriends. UNDER CURRENTS begins by introducing what appears to be a perfect family. However, as readers quickly learn, all is not as the neighbors and townspeople, or even close relatives, believe.

On the surface, the Bigelow family seems to have it all --- a handsome surgeon father; a beautiful socialite mother; son Zane, who plays baseball and gets good grades; and daughter Britt, who takes ballet classes and obeys her parents at all times. But only the Bigelow children know the truth, which is that their parents are always strict (to say the least), and if they disobey a rule or command in the slightest, if they eat too much or talk too much --- or too little --- the consequences will be dire. Even their aunt Emily, who lives across the lake from them, doesn't have any inkling about the abuse taking place in her sister's home.

"There is something here for almost everyone: romance, action, mystery, strong characters, a beautiful setting, and a plot with twists galore."

Zane, especially, takes the brunt of the abuse. Because his father, Graham, is a surgeon, he knows exactly where to hit Zane so that there is no physical sign of abuse. Likewise, when Graham abuses his wife, Eliza, he never slaps her face. There are no marks to show the beatings, the kicks and the punches. And Eliza doesn't appear bothered by the abuse, nor does she make any effort to protect Zane. Instead, she tells him that if he would obey and be a good son, his father wouldn't need to correct him. The mansion in which they live is picture perfect, and Graham and Eliza play the part of role-model parents. They attend school conferences and Little League games, and Eliza is involved in the PTO. All is perfect in the Bigelow family --- to any and all outsiders.

Zane is within a few years of leaving home for college when the unthinkable happens. His father's temper escalates, and the result will change all of their lives forever. This portion of the story is "Part One: The Cruelty of Lies," and it's gripping and impossible to put down. It's also difficult to read at times because Roberts lays out the physical and emotional abuse in clear and ugly detail.

A decade later, Zane and Britt have moved on. But because he wants to be with his sister and aunt, the latter of whom stepped in to raise both children after the family fell apart, Zane returns to his hometown of Lakeview, North Carolina. However, the undercurrents still exist, although it will take a while for the evil to surface.

Meanwhile, a newcomer to town has faced abuse of her own. Darby McCray is a wonder with flowers and landscaping, and is feisty and strong, but she is hiding a past that has secrets even she isn't aware of. When they meet, Darby and Zane have to learn to trust each other, and it's a slow process. Roberts details the romance between them and how they fit into the small town in which they both want to live.

But then things start to go wrong. When properties are defaced, several suspects emerge, which makes for a compelling read. There is something here for almost everyone: romance, action, mystery, strong characters, a beautiful setting, and a plot with twists galore. There is also the added lesson of abuse --- how to recognize it, how to deal with it, how those being abused might feel. Abuse knows no social or financial boundaries, and sadly the victims are the ones who helplessly contribute to the secrecy that surrounds it. They face the danger of threats or shame, or both.

UNDER CURRENTS movingly demonstrates that each person's attachment, or lack thereof, to his or her family is unpredictable and frustratingly different. While abusive families often produce generations of abuse, that's not always the case, and while loving families usually result in children becoming loving parents, there are exceptions. This would be a great book club choice for the questions that Roberts raises, such as: "How would Zane's life have turned out if he hadn't had a loving sister, aunt, and good friends and their families to support him?" "At what point is it important to step in if abuse is suspected?" There is much disturbing depth in this novel to plumb with thoughtful discussions.

Reviewed by Pamela Kramer on July 19, 2019

Under Currents
by Nora Roberts