Subterranean Blues

Tucked Away

A review of Tucked Away by Phyllis Rudin

Published on July 5, 2023

If you’re unfamiliar with Montreal’s Underground City, it’s truly not as mysterious as it sounds. Much shinier in reality, it is essentially a mall that connects underground to metro stations, shops, businesses, food courts, large plazas, and so on, across multiple floors – the embodiment of modernity. In Phyllis Rudin’s novel Tucked Away, she takes us through the so-called Underground City, adding a few layers of romance to the picture by introducing us to shop owners and secret corners through her characters, creating a little world full of different personalities and giving life to the tile and concrete. The story follows Chantal, a traumatized shadow until she isn’t, and the Elman women, Daphne and Nora – granddaughter and grandmother, respectively – as they explore their newfound underground lives.

A Ramshackle Home
Felicia Mihali
Translated by Judith Weisz Woodsworth

Linda Leith Publishing
$22.95
paper
246pp
9781773901435

A struggling academic who doesn’t seem to know what she wants (other than hopefully being able to write a word of her thesis), Daphne takes a job confining her to the Underground. For an entire year, she has to blog about her experience and advertise the Underground City to attract tourists. Though she is technically equipped with everything she needs down there, it turns out to be much easier said than done. Nora protests her granddaughter’s decision but unexpectedly finds a secret life underground of her own. The book’s title refers to more than just the Underground City – there is also a family seeking shelter in Nora’s basement, tucked away, as it were, from the outside world. Daphne, becoming bored of her unchanging environment and in desperate need of stimulation, fixates her surplus of energy on her newfound project: Chantal. More than DNA, Daphne and Nora seem to share a saviour complex.

Following these two virtuous women, one might hope that they would grow to be more critical and nuanced in their understandings of the situations they have found themselves in, but the story ends up perpetuating the idea that all you need to be satisfied in life is a saviour – to sacrifice and serve others in order to gain purpose. Especially if you’re a woman, that sacrifice somehow makes you softer. The story tries to cover a broader scope than it was set up for and ends up falling flat as it unfolds at an expedited pace.

Rudin opts for an omniscient narrator, and unfortunately in this novel, this choice makes it difficult to follow the story more often than not. In a single paragraph, we could be reading from two or three characters’ perspectives without warning. Though her descriptive prose is at times littered with unnecessary analogies and metaphor, it does succeed in captivating the reader when it needs to. Rudin makes the Underground City sound like more of an actual city than a mall and does an excellent job of setting the scene. 

The book would have benefitted from the use of more concise language, and possibly a heavier editorial hand. It feels rushed, jumping from one event to the next, making it difficult to fully engage with the story and leaving quite a few loose ends. The overuse of analogy, sarcasm, and jargon leaves the reader craving something more genuine and direct.mRb

Val Rwigema (they/he) is a Rwandan-Filipino writer and vocalist who grew up in the Alberta prairies, currently based in Montreal.

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