Cast Me Gently

Cast Me Gently - Caren J. Werlinger If there is one book that sold me on the cover and title alone, it's this. Simple yet poetic and truly enchanting.

The blurb doesn't reveal much beyond the basic setting and timeframe: 1980s Pittsburgh, and the two ladies' backgrounds. But underneath the cover is a rich and vibrant story encompassing myriad themes: family ties in an extended, close-knit family; restrictive societal attitudes toward same-sex relationships; homelessness and struggles in financially troubled times; even sexual harassment in the workplace. All of these subplots are woven in tightly and seamlessly with the beautiful love story of two people from very different backgrounds: Theresa, ever surrounded by family and never wanting for anything in life and Ellie, alone and struggling for most of her life. An unexpected attraction sparks a friendship that slowly develops into something more. Will they ever let it grow deeper, knowing both are trapped by their respective ties: Theresa to her very conservative family and Ellie to a quest to find her long lost brother?

'Cast Me Gently' is without a doubt the angstiest book I've read this year. There is nothing I dislike more than contrived angst. But by setting the story in the 1980s, the author has smartly set the stage for throwing a ton of realistic obstacles onto Theresa and Ellie's path--both external and internal. I also loved how the author dealt with unpleasant but important social issues raging at the time, and not in a superficial or patronizing manner either but with compassion, understanding and well-balanced realism--and deftly worked it into the plot so it doesn't feel out of place, doesn't sound like a history lesson or some kind of agenda. Every subplot and every character, no matter how small or insignificant, has relevance to the story progression or the MC's development, and there are a ton of them. I seldom see such superbly complex yet seamless plotting in genre lesfic. This is the author's best work yet.

Much of my emotional reaction is a tribute to the book's incredible ability to put me in the main character's place. I became Therese or Ellie, but especially Therese, who despite being surrounded almost 24/7 by people, feels incredibly lonely and alienated. So when she finally finds a soul mate in Ellie, a simple hug sent me over, lol. And to think I just told another reviewer I'm too jaded for that now. There's hope for me yet. In the hands of a skilled author, that is. :)

Lastly, I also loved that the book didn't do shortcuts. No, our ladies behave like real people--they have to work things out the loooooong way--like in real life. Just because they're head over heels in love doesn't mean they'll turn their backs on everything that made them what they were. This is real-life messy and there's no easy way out. But like real life, they've got to choose what regrets they can live with.

5 stars

P.S. As an aside, I'd like to mention that despite the fact that this story is illustrative of 1980s attitudes toward same-sex relationships in America, these same attitudes are still very much in place in other parts of the world. The family dynamics are not limited to Italians. Transplant the family to anywhere in Asia (even today!) and they'll fit right in. Moms unleashing the dreaded 'How could you do this to us after we spent so much money on you!' speech to guilt-trip adult children into compliance is as universal as parental love itself. :)

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