I’m delighted to be welcoming Anne Goodwin’s return to Jera’s Jamboree as she tours for her second novel, Underneath. Anne was in my hot seat answering questions last year for her debut Sugar Snails and today, she’s sharing a guest post related to her new novel.
First, here’s more about Underneath:
Print Length: 276 pages
Publisher: Inspired Quill (25 May 2017)
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?
Available to purchase from:
Anne is sharing with us the impact of the absent father in Underneath:
When, in my second novel, Underneath, Liesel, the narrator’s girlfriend asks him about growing up without a father he denies it made any difference. His father having died before he was born, Steve believes he can’t miss what he’s never known. Yet, as a young boy, he’s intensely jealous of his friend’s freedom to play rough with his father, even when the latter is unwell (p166):
I get the draughts board out of Jaswinder’s toy box and line up the counters. Do you want to be black or white?
Jaswinder ignores me, pulling on his daddy’s arm as if to drag him to the floor.
No, you naughty boy, says Jaswinder’s daddy. You have to play with your guest. When he talks, a slit opens up in his beard, like a rip in my jeans. I’m scared the slit will keep on growing till the bottom half breaks off from the rest of his face.
Jaswinder tugs harder and starts to whine: You come and play, Bapa! When his daddy resists, Jaswinder punches his arm. Now, now, says Jaswinder’s daddy, you’re a very naughty boy! He talks in English but he says the words like they mean something foreign. He pronounces naughty like notey and he says it half-laughing as if naughtiness is a game. And Jaswinder only giggles and keeps right on, even when his daddy coughs and coughs as if he might explode.
The only way he can cope with the feelings this interchange arouses in him is to disparage the family in a racist inner rant (p167):
I hate Jaswinder and his daddy and his granny and the baby that doesn’t do anything except throw her toys away. I hate their smelly greasy food that burns the back of my throat and their gabble-gabble language that doesn’t make sense. I hate the cloth picture of the golden palace above the fireplace, the jewelled cushions and the brightly coloured walls.
His isolation is intensified by being the only one in the family who’s never met his father, something his bullying older sisters love to prey upon, testing him with questions – What’s Daddy’s favourite colour? What football team did he support? – which he couldn’t possibly answer. At the same time, knowing him only through his sisters’ stories and the photograph on the top of the television, part of him believes his father is like Santa, “just pretend”.
As an adult, Steve has found alternative father figures to fill the gap of which he’s barely aware, such as his sister’s husband, Greg, and Jerry, an older man at work, but they could never be enough. So he’s left to deny a father’s relevance, which becomes problematic when Liesel wants to start a family. How can he face the prospect of fatherhood when he has no idea what being a father means? Unable to admit to vulnerability, he’s dismissive when Liesel tries to help him explore his fears (p151):
“I think it’s connected to what happened to your own dad. Deep in your unconscious you believe having a baby would wipe you out.”
I felt sorry for her in a way. I imagined her spouting this nonsense in her interview and the panel covering their smirking mouths with their hands. I imagined her being ridiculed by the prosecution for trying to convince the jury that some thug hadn’t meant to throttle his wife, he was acting out some pre-conscious childhood trauma. I imagined her sitting in the pub, chewing over my private business with Jules and Abigail. “It’s the woman who carries the baby,” I said. “Even in the middle of the Kalahari a hundred miles from a health centre, neither pregnancy nor labour poses a risk to the father.”
Liesel drew back her legs and rested her hands on her knees. “Perhaps I’m the one who’s mad wanting to start a family with a Neanderthal.”
You’ll be sleeping on your own tonight if you’re not careful, Steve. “You’ve got to admit,” I said as gently as I could, “it’s not very logical.”
“The unconscious doesn’t work on logic,” she said. “But a child feels responsible for whatever goes wrong in his life. So you’ve grown up believing your dad died because of you …”
“Even if he died before I was born …?”
“Especially if he died before you were born,” said Liesel. “Because it’s not rational, you don’t get a proper reality check. The idea gets buried but it doesn’t go away. You grow up assuming babies murder their dads.”
Somewhat perversely, when the relationship unravels and Steve is no longer a lover, but a jailer, the role is more like being a father than anything he’s ever done before. The captive in the cellar is completely dependent upon him, while his own life is restricted by the need to keep her safe. When, in a huff, he goes away overnight, his guilt at his neglect of her is deeply felt.
An absent father hasn’t made Steve into a criminal, but it has contributed to the particular pattern of pathology that allows him to act immorally when the occasion arises.
About the Author
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.
Catch up on her website: annethology (https://annegoodwin.weebly.com/) or on Twitter @Annecdotist.