The Undertaking of Tess
By: Lesley Kagen
Publication Date: 7/24/2014
My Rating: 5 Stars
“Her Life Ain’t Ever Gonna be the Same”
During the summer of 1959, ten-year-old Theresa “Tessie” Finley has her work cut out for her. Not only is she attempting to come to grips with the devastating loss and guilt she feels after she witnessed her father’s drowning, her kid sister, Birdie, refuses to believe that their beloved Daddy is really gone. Tessie needs to make sure that she does before their Mom gets wind of how much “weirder” her sister’s getting. Stronger, and more down to Earth than ethereal Birdie, she’s always watched over her sister, so it’s only natural for her to come up with a plan that she jots down on one of her never-ending TO-DO lists. If Tessie can’t achieve her goals, she’s desperately worried that the beautiful, but self-occupied Louise, might send emotionally fragile Birdie to the County insane asylum.
Her Daddy always told her, “A Finley never throws in the towel,” so more than anything Tess wants to make him proud, but despite her resourcefulness and grit, she’s smart enough to know that the odds are stacked against her and her time is running out.
Heartbreaking, funny, nostalgic, and spiritually uplifting, you’ll cheer the Finley sisters on from the first page to the last of this charming novella that sets the stage for the upcoming novel, The Resurrection of Tess Blessing.
The Finley Sisters are guaranteed to steal your heart, as you laugh out loud with Lesley Kagen’s bittersweet novella, THE UNDERTAKING OF TESS, and double your pleasure, with a continuation of this dynamic duo in THE RESURRECTION OF TESS BLESSING.
In the summer of 1959, in Milwaukee there are two sisters, not yet teens, both OCD; Tess with her daily routine of making lists (and keeping them updated daily) with:
• Her To-Do Lists (love the strike outs, when she accomplishes the item, or no longer needed),
• Her Shit List (hilarious)
• Her Criminal Activity List (brilliant)
• Life’s Little Mysteries (award-winning)
• Her Royal Highness’s Favorite Things (this would be their narcissistic bitchy mom, Louise)
• What Went Missing the Same Time Daddy Did List (insightful and heartbreaking)
Tess (Theresa) knows how to bullshit with the best of them, feels guilty of so many things, and quite the mischievous one (as she has to be one step ahead of her mom and all the neighbors--having to take care of her kid sister Birdie who is the underdog, so her mom will not have her carted off to the loony bin—man, she carries some heavy burdens for a young girl.
Birdie (Robin Jean) on the other hand is naïve, fragile, innocent, overweight, loves to eat, and adores her sister, and has an imaginary friend, Bess. She is OCD on steroids, loves to keep everything clean and spotless, while complimenting everything their beautiful mother does in order to keep peace.
The girls (endearing) loved their dad, as he adored practical jokes of all kinds; however their mom Louise is a different story (and not in a good way). After the tragic drowning of their dad (Lake Michigan on a boat fishing with Tess), the two girls have to endure their selfish mother, who does not allow them to attend the funeral of their dad.
Louise, the mother is now forced to go to work, to support them, stating she has to find a man to marry her. Tess thinks she could have saved her dad, as she has to make Birdie come to grips with reality that their dad is dead, as she thinks he is living in Boca (funny as Boca is about 20 minutes south of me).
Boy, oh boy, what entertainment and imagination by the author! She is a comedian (guess this comes from her vast background), as she has some great one-liners, I was busy bookmarking. Having grown up in the fifties/sixties, I could so relate, and felt like I was stepping back in time (I was the mischievous one, grounded most of the time; with bratty, tattle tale younger sister and nosy grandmother living next door).
Great character development, with two lovable sisters which will draw you into their complex world with this funny, bittersweet, and moving coming of age e-short story; a perfect prequel for the continuation of these two fun loving sisters in THE RESURRECTION OF TESS BLESSING.
Having just finished an ARC of, The Resurrection of Tess Blessing which I read first and loved (when I requested via NetGalley at the last minute, was unaware there was a prequel short story). Immediately after reading, purchased the novella, as was so intrigued and curious about the earlier childhood of Tess and Birdie. The books can be read as a standalone; however, trust me, you will want to read both!
The novella is a great introduction into the girl’s lives in the fifties growing up, and continues in the full novel with where Tess is now married, in her late forties, with two children, and Birdie her estranged sister, is living in Boca. Tess is still making lists; however, now they are more grown up issues.
Where has Lesley Kagen been all my life, as just now hearing about her? She has a unique way of capturing voices, emotions, thoughts and feelings with much depth.
Thank you NetGalley for introducing me to such a talented author. Wow, now I have to read all her previous books, as she has just been added to my favorite author list! Highly recommend both; I am still smiling.
The Resurrection of Tess Blessing