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Book Reviews

BlueInk

In J.D. Langston’s novel Iniquitous Connections: The Dark, a WWII Army medic’s troubles on the homefront cause a chain of events that impact his two young daughters, who then struggle to make sense of their fractured lives.

Craig Lewis suffers from PTSD, manic depression, and alcoholism. His wife’s agonizing death from a tainted amphetamine injection he issued to suppress her appetite sends him over the edge. Amidst this tragedy, Craig becomes physically abusive toward his daughter Karen Ann, and in a drunken rage, he sees the resemblance of his younger daughter Susie to his late wife, and soon sexual abuse occurs.

In five parts, this voluminous novel covers the1940s to the present. Langston details the highs and lows for these two sisters, as the early trauma affects their emotional well-being. For Susie in particular, the road to recovery becomes long and ominous as she fights depression and other mental challenges. Langston also weaves in the concept of God and prayer as a path to salvation. Beyond traditional treatments, Susie’s therapist often directs her toward the healing strength of the Divine.

A solid character-driven novel, the story moves at a steady pace, and Langston skillfully injects period details, from television’s Laugh-In, to the moon landing to the new Lamaze childbirth method.   

Langston’s narrative style often forewarns readers of things to come. While this might seem a spoiler, it also creates anticipation for the impending drama. And while Karen Ann’s absence is felt as the author focuses on Susie in the latter part of this work, Langston recovers from this by introducing both sisters to a neighbor character who shares her own traumatic experience.

The author’s opining epilogue covering war and its consequences seems a momentary disconnect from the novel’s flow but succeeds to remind readers that perhaps the best way through dark times is to connect with a Higher Power. Overall, those drawn to in-depth family sagas should find Iniquitous Connections an interesting and compelling read.

Also available in hardcover and ebook.

 

Pacific Book Review

Like tragic headlines and grim news stories, some novels serve mainly to remind us of our blessings. This appears to be the primary role of “Iniquitous Connections: The Dark,” an often bleak but generally realistic novel by J.D. Langston. “The Dark” is an appropriate subhead. Much of this story is unleavened by humor or anything resembling hope. Indeed, while Corinthians 13:13 promises that “Three things will last forever –– faith, hope and love,” for the first third of the book these blessings remain in short supply.

The novel opens as World War II veteran, Craig Lewis attempts to manage the care and feeding of his two young daughters during wife Claire’s illness. He’s challenged at every turn by simple but unfamiliar tasks including dinner prep and dish washing. Indeed, for the first few pages I reimagined the book as a “Greatest Generation: Mr. Mom.” Instead, Craig’s present day struggles are interrupted by the first of many flashbacks. A medic during fierce combat in Italy, Craig witnessed death and agonizing injuries up close. He even suffered a serious wound of his own. Back home, his wounds are more of the psychic variety. Craig’s default coping mechanism comes out of a bottle.

As Claire is hospitalized, the tragedy becomes even more acute. It is revealed that Craig felt she’d put on too much weight during her second pregnancy. He “helped” her diet by supplying injections of amphetamines using syringes stolen from the lab where he works. Unfortunately, the Atlanta research facility has been seeking a cure for hepatitis. Even more unfortunate, the needles were improperly sterilized. Claire slowly dies, while Craig’s guilt and alcoholism escalate. The author has helpfully opined that “If only he would have looked to Providence for his help instead of a bottle, his life and that of his daughters’, would have turned out differently.” While I will concede that turning to a “higher power” may have helped him battle alcoholism, his decision to transform his wife into someone skinny enough to fit into the latest fashions was the choice of a sober psychopath.

For Craig, Dora is the one bright spot in his dark recollections. The nurse who brought him back to health in Italy also lives in Georgia. Not long after burying his wife near her family home, he begins seeing her. Meanwhile, his daughters Susie and Karen Ann are shuffled between relatives and a Catholic boarding school. This is quickly revealed as the preferable option. Whenever the girls visit Craig, the book shifts into the sad terrain of “Bastard Out of Carolina” –– detailing his escalating physical abuse of Karen (along with the sexual abuse Susie suffers at school.) Iniquitous means unjust or grossly unfair. The connections in this book definitely qualify.

Although the girls eventually find a better home, the relentless focus on grim and disturbing material makes it a tough book to read. Yet the author clearly has compassion for her characters. Sometimes writers choose a story; more often the story chooses the writer. This seems to be the case here. My main criticism is that the novel seems unbalanced. The first half of the book is devoted to the events of just five years, while the remaining 200 pages or so takes us to the present day. While I truly believe our adult lives are informed by our childhood, I would have preferred some judicious culling in the earlier sections. Still, its documentary style approach will greatly affect readers. Anyone who enjoys books by Jodi Picoult or Gayle Forman will find much to savor with “Iniquitous Connections: The Dark”.
 

US Review of Books

“Shame has a way of changing a person… In Craig’s case, his shame, and his guilt and his grief will be his undoing.”

From Preacher to WWII medic, Craig Lewis returns from the war, now a lab technician suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He makes one bad decision after another until his life unravels. Turning to the bottle instead of toward God, Lewis spirals downward, pulling everyone in his life down with him. Langston has readers enraptured by her good storytelling and excellent character development. Lewis’s life path, beginning as a compassionate, churchgoing community member, then husband, father, and provider, quickly crumbles after the war as Lewis drinks and drowns himself in self-pity, and with skillful writing, readers sway between sympathy and rage toward him.

Eventually, when Lewis loses his family, he is temporarily out of the picture. His two daughters, passed from one relative to another, both cope and manage, but later develop severe depression and PTSD from the time spent with their abusive father. As youngest daughter Susan grows up, will she ever fully remember her past and reconcile with it? Foreshadowing leaves readers full of foreboding about what is to become of Susan. “She is learning her own way to think, creating others in her own mind that ‘help’ her, will not be, in her mind, anything she can comprehend for many years. For now though, she is in the beginning stages of becoming a very fractured little girl.”

The novel takes readers through the lives of Lewis’s daughters as they seek therapy to crawl back through the horrid memories and come out the other side whole. Langston keeps readers in suspense, especially about the mental health of youngest daughter, Susan, until almost the last page. With several plot twists, the novel is ever-suspenseful. Ultimately, readers are intended to feel hopeful that with faith and support, anyone can heal from a torturous past.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review