Tethered: A Novel

Tethered: A Novel

by Amy MacKinnon


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At times both haunting and thrilling, a woman is forced to reconcile with her own haunted past to save a child from an abusive household in this novel that explores the ties that bind us together

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307409201
Publisher: Crown/Archetype
Publication date: 08/11/2009
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 272
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.60(d)

About 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.

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.

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Tethered 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 47 reviews.
justablondemoment on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Well written book. My only complaint is I wanted to know more about the characters. MacKinnon would lead you to the water but wouldn't let you drink. Frustrated me. I really enjoyed the definitions to the flowers. Would have been nice to have a reference with all listed out somewhere in the book. Not a hard "who did it" book to figure out, but definitely one that kept me turning pages.
susanjoyce on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A haunting and beautiful read.
bookaddict85 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The protagonist Clare Marsh is a mortician who lives a rather secluded life. We learn that Clare¿s childhood was not at all happy. She lived a life of emotional and sexual abuse and ran away at a young age. She seems at peace among the dead and most uncomfortable among the living. Her boss Linus and his wife Alma believe themselves to be orphan parents since their young son passed away. They see Clare as an orphan child and love to treat her as their daughter but Clare never fully opens up to them, she does not know how to accept affection and always remains distant. She is constantly thinking about how she is suppose to react in any given situation. Claire is always on guard and she tries to keep her emotions in check. When a young girl named Trecie is found playing in the funeral home, and believed to be linked to an unsolved murder case. Clare sees herself in Trecie, her same desperation and decides she must do whatever she can to help her. Unlike the people in her life who blatantly refused to help her. This story in unlike anything I¿ve read before. Tethered took me by surprise and brought me on an emotional ride. It¿s not the type of novel I usually read, I tend to stay away from mystery novels. I was captivated by this haunting story from the beginning. As a debut novelist, I hope Amy Mackinnon will write more books. Her writing is beautiful, and I just wanted to keep turning the pages.
MystiqueWillow on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
On her first attempt, MacKinnon has delivered a Tour de Force. Her book poetically delves into some of the darker sides of human emotions examining abuse, aloneness, self-imposed isolation, and death. The novel unfolds in a melodious elegant language, encouraging the reader to linger over every word, every page. This is the kind of book one wants to read and take in slowly. The plot is strikingly unique and sturdy, and the characters are well developed, intriguing, and acutely thought provoking. The story revolves around a female undertaker who (due to her self-imposed isolation)exists among the living and the dead. The story furnishes an intricate and detailed account of a person who strives to maintain a state of self-isolation. One who is determined to block out the world, turning away from crisis, compassion, and love and hiding amongst the dead. While I found the book to be hauntingly beautiful it is not for everyone. The depth of the book makes it dark by nature. If wandering amidst a darker and deeper side of human nature or searching for the meaning behind or answer to thought provoking text isn't a regular read for you and doesn't sound appealing, then this is probably not a book you'll enjoy or get anything out of. This is in no way, shape, or form a surface read. On the other hand, for those who love or live to delve into the depths of human experience, you will not be disappointed.
JoyLebow on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A story that takes you inside a place you've never been and takes you quite deep into a woman's soul
Kellyannbrown on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book literally kept me "tethered" to my car. I would wait in the car at the end of the day to heat to end of the chapter. I gues this is the hazard of "reading" audiobooks.You will find yourself falling for the lonely and damaged funeral home worker. She has a secret passion for flowers and she understands their language. Her boss and his wife have collected her and think of her as their own daughter.Swirling around the funeral parlor is the death of the unclaimed "Precious" Doe, who was brutally beaten to death before being dumped in the city. What does the funeral home director know about her death?You just never know who to trust in this book, and, as in real life, you are never quite sure (until the end) if your trust is justified. I found this book to be thrilling, sad and deep... at the same time.
tibobi on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was so excited to receive Tethered, by Amy MacKinnon as part of Random House's Read it Forward program. It's the first book that I received through the program and it's one that I really, really wanted to read so I was doing the happy dance when I opened up the package. Thank you Random House!Clara Marsh is an undertaker. She spends her days and nights taking care of the dead. With no family of her own, she settles in with Linus and Alma, funeral directors for the mortuary who not only provide her with a job but also a place to live.Living where you work provides its own challenges so Clara takes refuge in the cottage garden that is hidden behind her home. There she cares for several varieties of flowers and it's these same flowers that she lovingly places within the caskets as she prepares for each funeral.After preparing a body, Clara notices a young girl exploring the funeral home. Unnerved by her presence, Clara confronts her and explains that a funeral home is no place for a child. After talking a bit more to her, Clara learns that her name is Trecie and that Linus lets her visit sometimes.As the story unfolds, we learn that Trecie is in trouble and in need of help. Clara, having a past of her own to contend with, quickly forges a bond with the child and with the encouragement of Linus, promises to help her. At the time, Clara is not entirely sure what she has gotten herself into, but there is something about the child that disturbs her and it's obvious that the child is desperate for a friend. As Trecie's story comes to light, local law enforcement is brought in and they discover a connection between Trecie's case and another case that was unsolved from a few years back.When I started this book, I was immediately taken with Clara's character. I imagine that it takes a special person to care for the dead and as I got deeper into the story, it became obvious to me that Clara was a very complex individual made-up of a lot of layers. I also knew that due to her complexity, her motive for doing things would not be presented to me on a silver platter. I would have to sit and ponder and really dig to figure her out.With that said, there were quite a few moments where the story took a turn that I was not expecting and left me scratching my head. During these times, I had to take a break from the book, think about it for awhile and then come back to it. This doesn't mean that I did not enjoy reading the book, it just means that although the story is not a long one (260+ pages), I found I had to break it off into small, manageable pieces in order to digest it properly.Overall, the story is not what I imagined it to be. I saw it going a lot of different ways, but in the end, I felt satisfied. It was an oddly disturbing book yet not terribly graphic. I guess dealing with dead bodies can't be all roses and lilacs but MacKinnon did an excellent job of setting the scene. There were many times where I really felt as if I were in that basement with Clara as she worked over a body. Gives me shivers just thinking about it.In looking at the cover and also the title of the book, I am trying to figure out the significance of the title as it relates to the storyline. If you've read it, what do you make of the title? It makes more sense to me now that I have finished the book, but the meaning does not present itself to me in an obvious way. I'd love to hear how you interpret it.I think this book would be a good pick for a book group as there is a lot to discuss. To read more about Amy MacKinnon and Tethered, click here. Be sure to click on the "About Amy" section and you'll read how she came upon the idea of this novel.
JGoto on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The characters in Amy MacKinnon¿s Tethered are lonely, broken people. Clara, physically abused as a child by her grandmother and sexually abused by high school boys as a teen, works as an undertaker. Mike, still mourning the untimely death of his wife and unborn child, is a police detective. Both are affected by the death of an unclaimed child that is brought to the morgue and both are drawn into a case involving child pornography. They discover a link between the two and struggle to trust each other as they work to help a living child and try to find the murderer of the dead one.This haunting psychological thriller is a satisfying page-turner.
spunnsugarz on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Amy McKinnon's debut novel, Tethered, is a bright yellow sunflower in a dull grey world. A haunting, beautifully written novel takes us into the depths of a mortician's life and the fragility of the human heart.Clara is used to being alone whilst she prepares the dead. She doesn't so much as believe in God or a higher purpose, but she has her own way of honoring those she tends. She lights her candles, plays her soothing music and chooses carefully the flowers she will bury with them. She grows her own flowers in her greenhouse, and knows the meaning of all the flowers. Daisies she usually saves for the children as it means innocence.Clara had a troubled childhood. Her mother died when she was young , a mother who really didn't set the best example, so she goes to live with her grandmother. A God-fearing woman who essentially abuses Clara's psych. Clara is so used to be alone, its become second nature to try and absorb herself into the woodwork. She lets know one get close to her.Until one day when she finds a young girl, Trecie, 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.This novel took me by surprise. So full of human emotion, and vivid writing, you'll be relating to the heroine in some way. I couldn't turn the pages quick enough to get more about Clara and Trecie. I will definately be looking forward to reading more from this author. A new talent who shines as bright as a star. Highly Recommend!!
deb-oh on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I really loved this story, although I found it very sad. I enjoyed the way it was written, and the way the story unfolded. The Language of Flowers was a nice touch.
jules72653 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I loved this book! Very suspenseful and intriguing, it kept me up well past midnight to finish it!
saratoga99 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was a fascinating read. It provided a bit more information about funeral homes and the preparation of the dead for burial than I really wanted to know, but as part of the story line, it was necessary. Clara Marsh a mortician is also somewhat of a recluse who refuses to deal not only with her past, but appears more interested in the dead rather than the living. Clara's quaint habit of hiding flowers in the coffins as she prepares bodies for burial is almost ritualistic; the flower choice symbolizes the character of the person. This is a well-written novel that captures the reader immediately. I was disappointed with the ending; it was inconsistent with the rest of the book.
Whisper1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I found this book on Stasia's list and I'm glad I trusted her judgment.This is a highly crafted, well-written, grip your emotions and never let them go kind of book. Found in the mystery section, it actually transcends just one category.It is raw, gritty and gripping and the heroine is a flawed, fascinatingly in-depth woman. Mackinnon crafted an entire set of complex, unfluffy characters and once I began reading this book, I was compelled to finish it in one sitting.Clara Marsh is an undertaker who is more comfortable with the dead than the living. Badly bruised and emotionally, physically battered from a childhood none should endure, she looks at the world through eyes that have seen too much and a heart that craves to feel very little.Her boss and his wife provide a haven of stability, and yet as the book progresses, that relationship also becomes tested and tempest tossed.Clara's emotions are raw when three years prior, she prepared a burial for a beautiful little girl who was horrifically, brutally murdered and, lacking identity was named Precious Doe. When A small waif (Trecie) is found playing in the funeral home Clara sees the warning signs of a child who is badly abused.From this point forward, the book takes a twisting, turning dark road as Trecie is somehow connected to Precious Doe. As Clara attempts to help Trecie, memories of her childhood are woven in the tale of pain, betrayal and neglect.A local policeman Mike, who also has his share of tragedy, is like a bee buzzing, pestering Clara to help uncover the identify and killer of Precious Doe and to sew together the threads and pieces of Trecie and Precious Doe in an attempt to prevent a similar fate.There is a portrayal of the seedy, underbelly of child pornography, and there are of a cast of town folk characters who are not all they appear to be. This book elicits suspicion and a whirlwind of emotions as it increasingly becomes difficult to discern who to trust.The ending is unpredictable. While the story line is gripping and heart wrenching, the author did not portray the violence simply for the sake of gore.Highly recommended for the excellent plot, the crisp writing and the portrayal of a redemptive soul, who despite terrible pain and darkness longs to be free of burden and bask in a ray of some sunshine.
shadowofthewind on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this, although it isn't a typical book I would read. I was intrigued by an author interview where she commented that undertakers were typically people of faith. In this case, the main character Clara, is an undertaker without faith. Most of the story reads very closely to The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold, but this one isn't as bleak. Clara's faith is taken away from her by an abusive grandmother and a troubled childhood. That premise alone drives the book. It's a murder mystery of sorts, but it transcends that. It drives the plot, but the book is mostly a bleak story of how someone could face death everyday without any faith in anything. I seem to remember a story similar to this where a young child was murdered without identity, referred in the press as "precious doe" to get people looking for her. A quote at the beginning and at the end of the story can describe her. The beginning:"Death cannot kill their names.I already konw the image carved into the top.Two red roses...AdorationIt's a thoughtful gesture by the town to immortalize the soliders. But they are wrong death ends everything precious doe's name died with her her story too. wishful thinking and a granite stone cannot revive a life."Near the end:"Clara You're dead problem is you never lived all those flowers, whatever have you allowed to take root."It's love in the end that brings her back. The ending sequence is what brought this book from a three to a four for me.
laws on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Excellent first novel. Once I started reading the story , I could not put it down. I hope that the author will write more stories like this one. Clara Marsh is an an Undertaker working at the Barthlomew Funeral, owned by Linus and Alma. Clara gets involved with Trecie, a girl that came to the funeral home. She wants to find out where her family is. During the course of the search , Clara, along with the help of her Detective friend Mike, find the truth and each other. Both have been through hardtimes esp. Clara. Clara has a habit of pulling her hair out in clumps at times. I was amazed at the depth the author went to explain what an undertaker does
vikk on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Outstanding book. I don't like first person and rarely, if ever, read books written in that point of view. Not only did I read it, I enjoyed it and read it in one sitting. Worse it's written in present tense. I NEVER read those. MacKinnon did it so well I didn't realize it for quite a while and by then I was hooked. Great story, talented author. I'd definitely read her work again.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Poignant and tragic. The imagery is profound. I love this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Unwasted_Words More than 1 year ago
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.
Catpurrson More than 1 year ago
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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