Going Under chronicles the deterioration of a family ravaged by drink, abuse, and deceit. Jeff and Meena (13 and 15) must cope with an unreliable, philandering father (Don) and an unstable, alcoholic mother (Jerri) who slowly deteriorates into psychosis. As Jerri Tillotson sinks in a morass of irrationality and despair, she threatens to drag her children down with her before the story reaches its harrowing climax. Yet, within this domestic tragedy, there persists the puckish humor and rich fantasy life of childhood as the kids invent strategies for survival. Meena turns into a human spider, creeping about the house and spying on her dysfunctional family, spinning webs to protect herself from her abusive half-brother, Olsen. Jeff digs a tunnel behind the house with his neighborhood pals-an underground shelter from the turmoil above ground. The story comes to an unexpected climax in this ragged hole in the ground.
The Tillotson children confront their dilemma with ingenuity, courage, and mutual devotion, and, in the end, they triumph. Set in the 1960s and told from the children's and their Aunt Debbie's point of view, Going Under is a poignant and emotionally powerful tale about the darker side of the human spirit and the consequences for those least prepared to understand them.
Nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award
GOING UNDER PAINTS TRAGIC PICTURE
"Start reading, and you are immediately taken into the hellish life of the Tillotson family....This is a family that to outward appearances in the early 1960s was ideal: handsome Don with his fast-track career, movie-star beautiful Jerri, boy-child Jeff and girl-child Meena living on a cul-de-sac in a quiet Oregon town. As Jerri's younger sister Debbie says:
"Nobody ever saw a thing in those places. You could do a strip-tease in the cul-de-sac, set up a guillotine, throttle the kids. Nobody would be the wiser. They huddled inside around TV football and miniature pool tables. Minded their own. Didn't give a 'fing **** what happened across the street. Why should they? This is a democracy after all."
But behind the front door on Walnut Street is a tornado. Don can't keep his mitts off Debbie, Jerri keeps booze stashed in everything from bleach bottles to mayonnaise jars, the better to drown her memories of being sexually abused by her father and brother. Don's son from his first marriage, Olson, is a creepy adolescent with one hand on his crotch and the other on his half-sister.
Luvaas has created here a terrible and tragic picture of the ways family dysfunctions appear in succeeding generations. Jerri is hypervigilant in watching for signs of little Meena being abused, but seizes upon the wrong perpetrator. Her towering rages chase Don out of the house and terrify the children, who develop classic defense mechanisms to cope. Jeff literally runs underground, digging with his neighborhood friends a 20-foot-deep tunnel. Meena turns herself into a watchful, silent spider, wrapping bits of contraband in layers of monofilament and crisscrossing her bedroom window with an elaborate web....
Reading going under is like watching a train wreck happen before your eyes. It's horrifying, powerful stuff you can't tear your eyes away from."
Susan L. Rife, Wichita Eagle
"The story is a page-turner, as they say, and the characters convincingly depicted."
William Vollman, National Book Award winning author of Europe Central
"I found GOING UNDER to be powerful, moving, frequently funny, and ultimately positive. Luvaas portrays the members of a dysfunctional family with compassion and insight."
Stephen Minot, author
About William Luvaas
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Published November 23, 2012
by Foreverland Press.
Literature & Fiction.