Title: Taken

Author: Kathleen George

Publisher: Delacorte Press (New York, New York: 2001)

Genre: Fiction, Mystery

Length: 309 pages

  

Marina Benedict is a woman who has lost her sense of self, and knows only the role of victimization she has played since she was a child—to be the rescuer, to gain love through compromise and self-sacrifice, to remain hidden. As a child, Marina grew up in a home that was terrorized by her abusive father. At the age of ten, Marina tried to stop the violence by intervening between her father’s fists to save her frightened family. Marina was able to secure a brief respite from the physical blows; however, she became the target of her mother’s emotional abuse. After Marina’s father died the legacy he has left remains a source of torment. Marina struggles to remain close with her family while knowing that much of their connection has eroded. The cycle of violence that had gripped Marina’s family in the past continues when Marina married Michael Benedict, an emotionally distant man whose feelings are guised in manipulation. For many years, Marina tolerates Michael’s violence towards her, and meekly submits to being under his control.

Even the way Michael bristled, the little bit he moved, as soon as she showed the soft underbelly of her sadness, spoke of violence in him…He had not struck her except for that once. But the books, papers, dishes, he had thrown, broken. He had been on the verge of striking her a million times. The threat of it was almost worse, given her family history, than if he’d hit her.” (page 3)

Slowly, things begin to change. Marina can no longer appease Michael, and grows tired of trying. Marina’s façade of goodness, of always doing right, of saving others is quickly cracking—but who is she, underneath?

  

 On the verge of divorce, Marina’s life is about to undergo complete transformation. Marina struggles to make the choice that will either change her life forever or maintain the cycle of violence that she has only known as “love”.

            “He’d been thinking. He must tell her, slowly, over time, over the phone, and then in person, how he is changing. That Saturday morning, months ago, when he threw things toward her, not at her—just audio—and videotapes, but a few of them ruined, and Marina seeing all over again her father, her father’s temper—that was bad. How clearly he sees himself now, from outside, from her point of view, as if he stepped over to stand beside her and look dispassionately. His inability to apologize, the way he’s been struck in resistance, and his indirect way of solving things…He wants to admit to this terrible anger of his. He wants to be rid of it once and for all.” (p. 167-168)

Through the darkest streets of Pittsburgh, and the darkest places within herself, Marina seeks to put her violent history to rest, and recreate her sense of self while undertaking a remarkable but dangerous journey. Without warning, Marina is thrust onto this journey when she witnesses the kidnapping of an infant on the streets of Pittsburgh. Without thinking, Marina follows the kidnapper, in an effort to rescue the baby. In a brutal confrontation Marina will face the ultimate battle for survival.

           

            Taken is not a conventional mystery novel, its challenge lies beyond the kidnapping that generates obvious attention but delves deeper into human motivations. Kathleen George writes an insightful novel that explores the passions, the demons, the history and hopes that define the motivations of the novel’s various characters. The storyline of the kidnapping, itself, is very intense and compelling. While Taken begins with Marina’s story and then the kidnapping, it veers into the very different perspectives of the police detective following the kidnapping, the family of the baby and into the perverse, demented lives of the kidnappers. The common thread that connects these very different stories is Marina, who becomes so invested in trying to save the baby that she puts her life at risk. The additional insight into the lives of the characters, and the intricacy of how their paths connect creates an emotional undercurrent seething with suspense.

  

Marina provides an interesting dimension of suspense. I found myself enthralled by her fight to save the baby, and wondering what she would make of her life. Marina is a very believable character—emulating goodness but flawed within, she cannot live up to the expectations beaten into her. Marina’s act to save the baby shows strength and integrity in a way that is different from her actions in the past; there is a subtle maturity happening as the story develops. Marina’s response to the kidnapping, yet another act of violence, calls upon strength to be more than passive but to develop purpose and put it to action. There are were many traits to Marina that are common to abuse survivors such as feeling numb or unable to identify feelings, being able to intuit or sense danger before an event occurs, struggling with self-esteem and being enmeshed in repeating patterns of dysfunctional or abusive behavior and/or relationships. Another trait evident in Marina is that she felt drawn or pulled in to people (or objects) that represent security, acceptance and/or love. For a person who has been traumatized, the pull can be so strong, that the person (or object) that represents these things becomes synonymous with love, acceptance and security. In these types of situations, the love is magical and filled with fantasy or filled with special meanings that hold no value in the real world, the need for the object or person becomes all consuming and the ability to remain independent diminishes as attachment increases. Addiction, abuse, and illness all result from these types of relationships based on dependency and victimization rather than equality and mutual respect.

Under her chaotic armor she is delicate. She’s Joan of Arc, just trying to manage the voices.” (p. 290)

Taken does not provide answers, the explanations are simple and may provoke further questions but what I did like is that I felt privileged to gaze into a window revealing connections and relationships in life that are rarely seen. I highly recommend Taken. As a first novel, Kathleen George has done an outstanding job.

 

Review by EJ, ⓒ 2008

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