A Perfectly Imperfect Family – A review of “Under Currents” by Nora Roberts

Anyone who has experienced abuse or been close to the abused will be especially moved by Nora Roberts’ new standalone “Under Currents”. This is a powerful story of child and spousal abuse, how it insidiously creeps into the lives of the abused, and its long-term and oftentimes generational effects that are not always evident to a casual observer but can be “sensed” if one is paying attention. Thus the title reference to “under currents” as opposed to “undercurrents”.

Yes, the story has a dark underbelly but it is offset by the hope and caring of family and community and of course by love; familial, platonic and romantic. After all, Roberts is the undisputed Queen of Romance. However “Under Currents” is more a family saga than a mere love story, set in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Our protagonists, Zane Bigelow Walker and Darby McCray, both lived through abusive relationships; Zane at the hands of his physician father and equally abusive socialite mother and Darby by her ex-husband.

The story is divided into three parts: the past relating the nightmare of Zane and his younger sister Britt’s early years in what appeared to the “perfect family” but was in reality filled with physical, psychological and emotional abuse at the hands of their parents. This is emotionally charged and Roberts brings all the ugliness and horror to life in these pages. Then in one explosive night it all comes to a head when the unthinkable occurs.

In part two Zane is an attorney and Britt is a psychologist, both still living in their hometown and we’re introduced to Darby McCray who’s just moved to town and is starting up her business as a landscape designer. She’s feisty, fiercely independent and well endowed with entrepreneurial spirit. When Darby and Zane meet, he’s captivated by the energy and vitality she exudes and she thinks he’s hot and seems like a nice guy. But her guard is up because her ex seemed nice too, until he decided to ditch the Mr. Nice Guy act almost before the ink dried on their marriage certificate. Still, the chemistry between Zane and Darby is undeniable and all is going swimmingly until nightmares from the past emerge and vandalism morphs into violence in the third part of the book. It’s difficult to determine the source of the threat when you’re not sure who the target is. The malevolent force seems almost tangible but who or what is behind that force has yet to be determined.

As one who loves all things to do with a garden, I recognize a kindred spirit in Roberts’ more recent works. She’s either a true gardener or she’s done tons of research on shrubs, trees, ornamentals, annuals and perennials. My money is on gardening in her blood.

As always, Roberts delivers with characters that are more than merely believable, they seem like old friends you’ve known forever. This is a masterfully woven tale in Roberts’ inimitable style and voice her readers have come to love. The plot is multilayered, with some twists and turns that will surprise you. It kept me reading well into the wee hours. Five stars.

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