Linda Legters’ debut novel, Connected Underneath, is unusual in several respects. Its chief protagonist, Persephone, is a confused teenager whose life becomes even more complicated when her tattooing habit, which she pays for with sex, gets in the way of her love for her best friend, Krista. Meanwhile, Celeste, a wheelchair-bound young woman who lives nearby, is watching and meddling in other people’s lives. I’ve not read a novel like it, and although the writing was a little tricky because of its unusual style, it seems to suit the novel perfectly, as the characters collide with one another like pinballs. The book is available as an eBook right now, and as a paperback on April 2nd. (Just so you know, I know Linda and she gave me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.)
GC: You’ve picked an unusual set of characters and story-lines in Connected Underneath. Was it the characters or their situations that developed first for you?
LL: The characters, definitely the characters. Celeste, for example, grew out of a childhood memory of a neighbor, and aspects of Persephone’s character come from the many wonderful and interesting but sometimes troubled students I have worked with while teaching at Norwalk Community College.
GC: Would you say that the overall tone of the book is dark?
LL: It certainly has some shadows, but there is also hope, hope that we can be more self-aware, more honest, and, well, more connected. The title of the book comes from the first line of Muriel Rukeyser’s poem “Islands,” which chides us in our thinking that we stand alone.
GC: How important is the location, a decaying upstate town, to the novel? Could the story have worked in a more upmarket place?
LL: I don’t think so. I didn’t want readers thinking about upscale solutions, such as therapy. Also, the fictional town, Madena, has been left behind by ‘progress,’ and yet maintains its struggle to survive and even move forward. At the beginning of Connected Underneath, the characters are isolated, and this parallels the ways the town is isolated, even though only a short train ride away from big cities. At the end of the story, Madena comes together, as do most of the main characters.
GC: Did you feel the changing points of view were a risky way to tell the story?
LL: In fact it’s always Celeste’s point of view, even as she describes others’ experiences. At first her information comes from what she witnesses or thinks she witnesses from the safety of her kitchen. Later, as her circles of contact widen, and her connection to the truth is on firmer ground, the story she tells becomes more and more accurate. In terms of the ending – which I won’t give away – we often imagine what moments like this must have been like for someone, and our imaginations can run wild in the way Celeste’s does.
GC: Your book is published by Lethe Press, a publishing company that specializes in books across the gender spectrum. The gay theme in the book is relatively minor, so would you describe this as a gay novel?
LL: I’m delighted Lethe Press welcomed my novel to their list, but, no, I don’t see this as a gay novel. Members of the LGBT community are part of the fabric of our lives, just as Persephone is part of Madena’s. A good friend, Dan Jaffe, who is also published by Lethe, and who first read this manuscript, appreciated the way it was not ‘one more’ coming out story, but instead showed Persephone in the throes of all-too-common teenage problems, of which her sexuality is only a part. Connected Underneath is also about parenthood, particularly single-parenthood, and about coming to terms with family dynamics, in all of its dimensions.