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Tethered

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Overview

Clara Marsh is an undertaker who doesn’t believe in God. She spends her solitary life among the dead, preparing their last baths and bidding them farewell with a bouquet from her own garden. Her carefully structured life shifts when she discovers a neglected little girl, Trecie, playing in the funeral parlor, desperate for a friend.

It changes even more when Detective Mike Sullivan starts questioning her again about a body she prepared three years ago, an unidentified girl found...

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Tethered: A Novel

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Overview

Clara Marsh is an undertaker who doesn’t believe in God. She spends her solitary life among the dead, preparing their last baths and bidding them farewell with a bouquet from her own garden. Her carefully structured life shifts when she discovers a neglected little girl, Trecie, playing in the funeral parlor, desperate for a friend.

It changes even more when Detective Mike Sullivan starts questioning her again about a body she prepared three years ago, an unidentified girl found murdered in a nearby strip of woods. Unclaimed by family, the community christened her Precious Doe. When Clara and Mike learn Trecie may be involved with the same people who killed Precious Doe, Clara must choose between the stead-fast existence of loneliness and the perils of binding one’s life to another.

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Editorial Reviews

Marilyn Stasio
There's a quiet, almost stealthy quality to the writing, so we become distinctly uneasy when Clara befriends a neglected, possibly abused child who has made the funeral home her sanctuary. Clara is an astonishing character, and with language as blunt as the death she sees every day, she expresses herself with devastating simplicity.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

MacKinnon's debut offers an authentic view of an undertaker's job, but the passivity of her emotionally wounded heroinemay exasperate some readers. In Brockton,Mass., lonely Clara Marsh tends to the dead at Bartholomew Funeral Home, whose kindly owner reminds Clara of the undertaker she met as a child at her mother's funeral. When Trecie, a neglected little girl, begins hanging around the funeral parlor, Clara thinks nothing of it until a routine body pickup uncovers a stash of child pornography and Clara recognizes Trecie in a video. The ensuing investigation also points to Precious Doe, an unidentified child murdered three years earlier and whose grave Clara often visits in secret. Aided by a sensitive Irish cop, Det. Mike Sullivan, to whom she's attracted, Clara tries to unravel the mystery, even if that means confronting her own unpleasant past. Some affecting, understated prose only partially redeems the flat story line. (Aug.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
There's no end to the misery in this dispiriting first novel featuring a funeral home, a child predator and a parade of victims. Foremost among those victims is narrator Clara Marsh. When she was seven, her beloved mother was killed in a car crash. She went to live with her grandmother, a devout Catholic and avenging fury who called her daughter a whore for having so many lovers. (Some of them, like Clara's unknown father, were black.) Life became hell. In high school, Clara was seduced by a football player, then raped by a succession of his buddies. She gave birth to a stillborn baby. The final humiliation came when her grandmother cut off all her hair. We learn all this in retrospect. At the novel's opening, Clara is a young woman who has moved to a depressed blue-collar town in Massachusetts to work as an undertaker. Her boss Linus, a sweet, elderly black man, tries to be her surrogate father, but Clara cannot give or receive love, feeling herself tainted. Her hothouse flowers are her only refuge. Clara's most heartbreaking assignment at the funeral home had been preparing the body of a small girl found in the woods, her severed head discovered the next day in a trash bag hidden nearby. At the burial of her unclaimed corpse, the pastor named the dead child Precious Doe. Now another neglected little girl, Trecie, is hanging around the funeral home, craving affection. Trecie goes missing and is spotted in a kiddie-porn movie, and the cops swing into action as Clara continues retrieving her dead clients from their invariably squalid surroundings. Funeral routines give way to melodrama as the killer reveals himself. There will be two, almost three murders before the end, but Clara'sloveless condition remains essentially unchanged despite a one-night stand with the investigating detective. A more resourceful writer would have painted a less monochromatic world and offered her heroine some hope for change. Agent: Emma Sweeney/Emma Sweeney Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307408969
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 8/12/2008
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 6.44 (w) x 10.62 (h) x 0.91 (d)

Meet the Author

AMY MacKINNON is a former congressional aide whose commentaries have appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, the Boston Globe, the Seattle Times, and on National Public Radio and This American Life. This is her first novel.
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

I plunge my thumb between the folds of the incision, then hook my forefinger deep into her neck. Unlike most of the bloodlines, which offer perfunctory resistance, the carotid artery doesn’t surrender itself willingly. Tethered between the heart and head, the sinewy tube is often weighted with years of plaque, thickening its resolve to stay. More so now that rigor mortis has settled deep within the old woman.

Each time I tug on that vessel, I think of my mother. I imagine other daughters are reminded of their dead parents whenever they hear the refrain from an old song, or feel the heft of a treasured bedtime story resting on their own child’s nightstand. My trigger is the transformation of a battered corpse back to someone familiar. I was too young when she died to remember her scent, and I have no memory of her voice. But her wake–like the accident–plays in my head like a movie reel, some frames taut and crisp, others brittle, fluttery things. Though always her face is clear: before, after, and then after again at the funeral.

I remember my grandmother’s friends clustered near the Easter lilies, whispering their doubts about my mother’s eternal salvation. My grandmother, her frayed black slip hanging just beyond the hem of her dress, bringing me to kneel on road-burned knees before the casket (don’t look!) and then hurrying me along, leaving me alone in the family room. I remember holding fast to my doll, a gift from one of my mother’s many boyfriends. He said he chose her because she resembled me. Even then I knew better. The doll was elegant and slight, with porcelain cheeks and delicate lashes, lips like my mother’s and eyes that clicked shut when I laid her beside me at night. She wore a red flamenco dress, gold earrings I once tried to pierce through my own lobes, and a parchment calling card tied to her wrist, her name in curvy script: Patrice. But what I remember best of all from that day was Mr. Mulrey, the undertaker. The mourners huddled in an adjoining room, their fingers clinging to rosary beads, their souls lashed to prayers, their drumbeat-chants vibrating within me. I ran from that room, desperate to escape, and rushed headlong into Mr. Mulrey. He was standing in the doorway of my mother’s room, filling it, appearing as bewildered as I felt. I clutched at his suit coat and he turned to me, hands worrying at his own set of beads. All of him stooped as if to avoid a raised hand: shoulders sunk, chin nearly resting on his chest, eyes buried deep beneath a low, dark brow meeting mine.

“I want to go home,” I said. I told him about my grandmother’s house, a place much like the funeral parlor with its heavy drapes and multitude of crucifixes, with long silences interrupted only by longer prayers. The way she pressed me to her bosom, suffocating with her old lady smell, vowing to protect me from my mother’s fate. I fingered the thick gauze that bound my head and asked if he’d take me to where my mother was.

He pocketed his beads then and folded my hand inside his enormous one. We walked away from the hum of mourners and stopped within a few feet of where my mother lay tucked in a lit alcove at the far end of the room. She appeared pink and rested. Her usual red lips were softened with the palest shade of coral, her pillowy bosom hidden beneath a lace collar. But there she was. With candles casting hypnotic shadows against my mother’s face, the room seemed kinder than the one I’d left earlier.

“Don’t be afraid,” said Mr. Mulrey, ushering me over to the coffin.

He allowed me to touch my mother for the first time since the accident. I stroked her hand, but it was hard and cold. So instead my fingers sought the fabric of her dress, knitting through her lace cuff as I spoke.

“I was sleeping when we crashed,” I said. “Then I was shaking her and shaking her, but she wouldn’t wake up.”

He let me go on like that; at least I don’t recall him telling me to hush. He simply knelt beside me, alongside my mother, listening. When I finished, he remained quiet.

“Mommy,” I whined, poking her arm, clutching Patrice to me, her doll’s eyes fluttering with each jostle. “I want to go home.” I wanted to sleep in my own bed, not in Grandma’s with her musty blankets and sharp toenails, with bedtime stories about mothers passing on to eternal damnation.

That’s when Mr. Mulrey again took my hand in his. “She’s dead.” He brushed aside a lovely curl that flipped over my mother’s brow where the worst gash had been to reveal the precise row of stitches he’d made with thread to match her flesh.

“Where’s all the blood?” I asked, but he misunderstood. I’d meant the blood that concealed her face in our final moments together as we lay in the street. He tugged open her collar to expose three neat stitches in her neck, telling me how he drained her blood from the carotid artery and replaced it with formaldehyde that then hardened inside of her. In spite of myself, I was awed by his ability to erase the wounds, to help me see my mother again.

I kissed my doll’s cheek and settled her against my mother, watching until Patrice’s eyes trembled closed. I almost snatched her back. I wanted to. Instead, I unraveled the calling card twined to her tiny wrist and hid it at the very bottom of my dress pocket. It would be the only memento I had of my mother. When I started to cry, fingering the three stitches (onetwo-three, one-two-three, one-two-three, breathe), Mr. Mulrey placed a hand on my shoulder and whispered, “Never mind what the others say. We’re all sinners and all sinners are welcomed by God.”

But I wasn’t comforted by a god who couldn’t give me back my mother; I found salvation in the undertaker who could. I suppose that’s why I became one.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 18 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 30 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 29, 2012

    Anonymous

    This novel was exellent. The characters are ordinary in that many novels give you too many beautiful people and not real people. The story is intriging and I read it in one sitting. I hope we get a follow up as I believe these characters are worth it. You will not be disappointed.

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  • Posted September 22, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Tethered and Bound....We should all think in flower metaphors.

    Never thought melancholy could be written with such vibrance. There was a tenderness in monotone, each word written with a controlled careful thoughtfulness that gave a real insight into the main character and all she'd survived. Tethered's heroine Clara lives like she works, in a coffin, it takes a little dead girl to awakens some semblance of life within her. An exquisite corpse of characters, MacKinnon held nothing back, it was like she took them as delicate figurines and threw them against the wall shattering them for our appraisal. There's Clara infinitely wounded by her past abuse mirrored by the young mysterious girl, Trecie and her attachment to Clara, and the potential love interest, Detective Mike Sullivan who comes into the story completely broken. All of them shells of former promise, brilliant in their flawedness, come together and heal each other in this wonderful fusion of genres mystery, crime drama, and paranormal that really works in MacKinnon's capable hands. My favorite part, the flowers. I find Tethered like a Calla Lilly for its simplicity, form, and elegance. We should all think in flower metaphors.

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  • Posted June 27, 2011

    A hint of paranormal, a dash of mystery, lots of emotion. Loved it!!!

    I was caught up in the story right away. Every chapter had me feeling everything the main characters were going through. It was one of the best books I've read. The writing was excellent. The description and detail of the people and events made me feel and see the story so clearly, like a movie in my head. The last few chapters and surprise ending left me teary-eyed!

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  • Posted February 23, 2010

    great read

    I really enjoyed this book. It is dark but I was able to get through the themes easily because I enjoyed the story and writing so much.

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  • Posted February 15, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Engrossing and Magical

    TETHERED is a novel written in prose that is both page-turning and poetic. What a feat. As a reader, I love being drawn into and learning about worlds of which I know nothing. Mackinnon provides gripping story and exquisite craft.

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  • Posted November 22, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    A Tightly Written Suspense Novel

    MacKinnon strikes a wonderful balance between the main character's back story and the mystery of the novel. Both story lines keep you engaged till the end.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 28, 2009

    Amazing

    This was an amazing book. Once I started I couldn't put this book down. It is a powerful, emotional journey in the life of Clara Marsh, an undertaker without faith. I highly recommend this debut novel!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 9, 2009

    A gripping but haunting book

    This was an amazing book that I couldn't put down. Although the subject matter was troubling, there was no way that I could not make it to the end. The characters are all well-developed and believable and the plot gives you enough information to lead you to believe you know what is going to happen, but in the end, you realize that you really didn't know. A great book.

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  • Posted August 24, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Beautiful descriptions

    I found Amy's descriptive writing to be very good. I love her attention to detail describing the areas around the characters. Enjoyable

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  • Posted March 9, 2009

    I was tethered from the first page...

    An usual subject matter and a brilliant first novel. Amy MacKinnon must have done endless research for this novel but it flows effortlessly as she weaves this compelling story from the viewpoirt of a female undertaker. I was unable to put this down once I started and the first person I passed it to said the same thing - well done!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 23, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Couldn't Put It Down

    After reading this novel, I was amazed to discover it was a first book by the author. I'll be watching for her next work. "Tethered" was very well written, touching deep emotions. The author built suspense by jumping between Clara's present life and and her past, allowing the reader to slowly begin to understand why she is so withdrawn and so unwilling to reach out to others. If this were a simple "who-dun-it," the story wouldn't have worked as well, as it was clear who the culprit was from the moment Clara sees the girl down the hall with the little dog, Peanut. However, because there was so much more to this story--pain, loss, forgiveness--it was a successful story. And, as in life, there was both a happy and a bittersweet ending to it. Not everyone can be saved.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 6, 2008

    I Also Recommend:

    A Riveting Debut

    A riveting debut, Tethered is a story about a quiet, reclusive undertaker, Clara Marsh, who unwittingly gets swept into an unsolved murder mystery involving Precious Doe, an unidentified little girl that Clara herself compassionately prepared for burial a few years earlier. As the mystery deepens, Clara is forced to confront her own doubts about God and what happens to a soul after a body has been buried. What I found truly remarkable about Tethered was MacKinnon's respect for faith. While this book isn't about Christianity, I was struck that it wasn't against it either, which I admit I was almost expecting. While some of the more haunting aspects of the novel might seem too supernatural for some people of faith, what Tethered does is inspire the reader to believe that faith is actually possible. Sometimes if we are blessed to see it, God pulls back the veil just a little, just enough to remind us that He is here with us. It's refreshing to see a mainstream novel pay respect to the very real struggle that humans have with faith even as we desire to believe. To its readers Tethered will hint of the very real possibility of what some of us are already blessed to know, that God exists. <BR/><BR/>Tina Ann Forkner<BR/>www.tinaannforkner.com

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 25, 2008

    A great read!!

    A dark, lightning-paced thriller laced with corruption and dysfunction that characters become desperate to overcome. What an intense ride!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 23, 2008

    Wow

    This is a wonderful book - wonderful story - easy to read and never a boring moment.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 1, 2008

    An entertaining mystery

    In Brockton, Massachusetts Clara Marsh works as an undertaker at the Bartholomew Funeral Home where she does better with the dead than the living although she is sympathetic to the grieving. She has no one except perhaps her kindhearted boss, Victor Bartholomew. When Clara finds Trecie in the funeral parlor playing there alone, she becomes concerned for the child. She asks Trecie if she prefers to go to the nearby playground, but Trecie answers no as there is nobody yelling here unlike home and she likes the flowers and candles.----------------- Clara does nothing as Trecie is causing no harm. However, Clara becomes hysterical during a corpse pickup when she finds a child pornography video with the preadolescent Trecie as a star. Detective Mike Sullivan investigates only to tie the ring back to the murdered, unidentified and unclaimed body of Precious Doe, who Clara helped bury and still feels haunted by the child visiting the gravesite regularly. Fearing that Trecie may be in danger a normally compliant Clara and compassionate Mike investigate with neither aware that the resolution leads back to her childhood.------------------- This entertaining mystery stars a fascinating extremely meek heroine. The story line is character driven by predominantly Clara with strong support from Trecie and Mike. That focus on Clara provides an intriguing look at being an undertaker, a job that requires a person to remain detracted yet sympathetic.--------------- Harriet Klausner

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 31, 2008

    Hauntingly beautiful

    This is the first book review I have ever written and I must say BRAVO! Most books entertain until the last page, but this one will haunt me for a long time. Beautifully written, wonderfully flawed characters. I hope Amy MacKinnon has more novels in the works!

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    Posted October 20, 2009

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    Posted September 21, 2010

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    Posted November 21, 2009

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    Posted November 6, 2010

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