4.5* – I liked so many different things in this book, so many things I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy.
At fifty-six, Maggie Ambrose is on her way to the top. She’s about to announce her plan to run for President of the United States as the Democratic candidate and to support her bid, she’s writing a memoir. When her publisher convinces her that she should reveal more than her political platform, Maggie reluctantly agrees to revisit her difficult childhood, her first marriage, her coming out, her relationship with the woman who is now her wife…
Maggie is far from perfect, she has made mistakes on her way, she has unknowingly but undeniably used people to reach her goal. She doesn’t shy from that responsibility, and that’s something I love about her. She’s also loyal and fair. Her relationship with her brother is a perfect example of that. Would I vote for Maggie Ambrose? Yes, absolutely.
One of the things I liked a lot despite expecting not to like it is the way this novel is structured. I’m not always a fan of flashbacks and the ones in Undertow worried me at first because not only were they flashbacks but they weren’t in chronological order. Once I understood what they were, their purpose and meaning, I looked forward to them.
I loved that the MCs were an old married couple. I’m very character-driven and I read for the feelings books provoke in me, and romance is often the easiest way there. There’s some romance here but it’s in the flashbacks, and I liked Maggie and Helen long before I read about how they met and fell in love. Maybe because I, myself, am still head over heels in love with my wife twenty-six years after meeting her, what I liked best about them is how much in love they are with each other after twenty-five years. I believed everything, the chemistry, the sex, the trust, the support, the strength they bring each other.
Maggie and Helen have wonderful chemistry from the moment they meet, even though it takes Maggie a while to see it for what it is. That chemistry translates also in small touches, since we first see them as an established couple, before the flashbacks take us twenty-five years earlier. The author makes it very easy to believe that the chemistry, the love, the respect, the heat still go strong after so many years.
I liked the writing too. It’s not distractingly beautiful as in some books, but there were a few sentences that I’d like to remember. I think my favourite is this one: “Smile with your heart and not your lips so I can kiss you.”
I’ll admit I skimmed over some of the minutiae of the election campaign. I loved reading about the possibility of a woman as president of the most powerful country in the world, and I did find the details interesting, but the closer the actual US election gets, the less I want to get into the thick of it.
One last thing, and really, it’s a detail, but I need to say it: “salut” in French doesn’t mean “cheers”, it means “hi”. No one on France will ever say “Salut!” when raising their glass. We’ll usually say “Santé”, “Tchin tchin” or “À la tienne/vôtre”. I’ve only ever heard Americans use “salut” (like Maggie in this book), which I guess comes from a confusion with Spanish or Italian.
Undertow was my first novel by Jazzy Mitchell. I know it sounds cliché but it won’t be my last.