Tuesday, April 10, 2012

"The Taker" by Alma Katsu- Gets Under Your Skin

All too often relationships are strange battles for control- unhealthy relationships anyway. If one person has invested themselves more deeply than the other they might find themselves in the unenviable position of trying to hold on to something that can't last; even compromising their self worth and morality in the process. Alma Katsu explores this dynamic in her dark fantasy The Taker.

While working the midnight shift at the hospital Dr. Luke Findley is surprised when a young, petite women is escorted into the E.R. accused of a brutal murder. Luke is instantly drawn to Lanore (Lanny) McIlvrae and the more he learns about her the more he is compelled to help her.

As Lanny tells her incredible story to Luke it becomes clear she isn't like other people as her history goes all the way back to the days when the Puritans founded the town of St. Andrew in Maine. Lanny's tale is one of obsession. She formed an unlikely friendship with Jonathan, the son of the town's founder, and spent her whole life captivated by his beauty and frustrated by her inability to make him love her the way she loves him. A tragic affair sends Lanny off to Boston where her fate becomes tangled up with Adair- a nobleman with the key to immortality. Lanny's obsession with Jonathan piques the interest of her new, sadistic benefactor and soon Lanny draws Jonathan into a strange world neither of them can escape.

At first "The Taker" is a tough book to get a feel for as it switches between the modern perspective and that of a small Puritan village. It's also hard to know whether or not to feel sympathetic toward Lanny because her fixation on Jonathan is obviously unhealthy. He's clearly self absorbed- a person who is deemed a taker like the title of the book, but as the book progresses Lanny seems to be a bit of a taker in her own way. Her relationship with Adair is one in which she keeps her heart to herself even though he he controls her, and the others in their sexually depraved "family," through his strange alchemy that grants them all immortality.

Much has been made of the sexuality that is depicted in "The Taker"- and it is an unexpected element. But it isn't particularly graphic; you'll find it's quite tame compared to your average Laurell K. Hamilton novel. Sex is really just the means of Lanny's downfall. First she's drawn to Jonathan through a largely physical attraction and it's unlikely that Lanny would be so captivated by Jonathan if he weren't so beautiful. When Lanny meets Adair she's drawn into his world thanks to the predatory appetites of his companions. Once Lanny has been stripped of her inhibitions she can no longer go back to her former life and it's easier to accept the sacrifice of her puritan morals in exchange for a life of easy luxury.

It's only on the surface that "The Taker" is about immortality or frank sexuality. Really it's about the push and pull of the heart and how we can't force an outcome no matter how much we want things to be a certain way. Each of us has power over those who want us- while being powerless against those whom we want. The simple truth that we'd all be happier if we could be content with settling with what is right in front of us is meaningless in the face of true desire. These themes seems to be true for every main character in the book as each of them rail against their own circumstance- and even wealth and immortality can't compensate the heart that wants something, or someone, else.

The emotional context of the book ends up really being the thing that draws you in. The characters themselves can be maddening because they rarely do the right, or selfless thing- though Lanny proves she is capable of sacrificing her happiness for another in the end. The relationships depicted in the novel have an underlying sense of frustration because no one ever seems to connect in a way that is easy or fulfilling. The juxtaposition of the rigid morality of the early Puritans and decadent lifestyle of Adair is an interesting contrast because it shows that there really isn't a framework in which anyone can be forced to compromise their feelings.

Ultimately I liked "The Taker." It's a strange story in some respects because you may not like many of the characters, but it has a surprisingly deep feel to it and there's something in the psychology of the story that just resonates with honesty. It's the kind of book that gets under the skin, makes you feel slightly uncomfortable and somehow leaves you with a wistful craving for more.

4 out of 5 stars


Alma said...

Your analysis of the book is quite astute! Thank you very much.

Budd said...

thanks for the review. I remember not liking any of the characters in Mists of Avalon and still liking the book.

SQT said...

Maybe I should give that book another chance. I never finished it because I didn't like the characters either.