Shake off the definitions... (Book Review - MCV Egan's Defined by Others)

Defined by Others
Author: MCV Egan

MCV Egan's 'Defined by Others' is the story of Anne, a 47 year old woman who suddenly finds herself at crossroads in life, after an unexpected separation from her husband. She finds an ally in her school friend, Connie, who to Anne's surprise is in the same boat.

It is 2012 and the world is about to end. In a way, it seems to be a better option than the alternative.
'Defined by Others' starts with an inheritance by another of their friend, Amanda, who has died recently.

At a time in their life, when Anne and Connie are emotionally fragile, Amanda's bequeath tempts them with leverage to control others. 
In the small town, where they had all grown up, their lives and emotions seem to be intertwined with one another.

Growing up in the cozy neighbourhood has the downside that there seem to be no secrets. Or so it seems. 
Amanda's 'Game' that Anne and Connie continue after her death throws up many surprises.
These surprises seem to be part of light-hearted fun to Anne, till she realises she may be losing all control. Her belief of controlling others may have just been a paradox.

Anne has lived the life of quite a rebel when compared to the other women her age in her vicinity, what with her support for Democrats much to her parents' indignation, her travelling and her work.
Anne consciously decides on the exact word to describe her experiences. When she thinks -
"My word to define that moment: unsettling."
it has more impact than had she just said that she's feeling unsettled.
As a reader I felt defining each moment, each emotion with the exact word, and bringing my attention to it specifically, makes a strong impression.

There is an aura of raw throbbing ache even before the feelings are aggravated by Amanda's posthumous nudge - "Enemies always attend each other's funerals. I guess it is a way of knowing they won.."

Everyone's closet seems to be hiding a secret whichever generation they may belong to. 
Reading through 'Defined by Others', there is the dilemma of whether these secrets are power or weaknesses.

"...tapping into our respective inner bitch was the most healing and enjoyable way to deal with what life had dealt us."

There is so much manipulation all around us, but it seems to be inconsequential. Is it because it is not intelligently documented? Is manipulation like writing a script of a soap, impacting lives of the 'victims'?

The cover design has colourful shapes (which look like a kaleidoscope) arranged in a symmetrical circle. 
Five quotes - If you share a secret it will no longer be a secret, Keep your secrets safe, Do not share your secrets, It will destroy you, Secrets give power - circumambulate the kaleidoscope-like design.
I like that the background of the design is black as there is a certain darkness in the book. The colours and kaleidoscopic design has a beauty and thus, hope about it.
And there is a hint of mystery, even before one reads all the 'secret' incantations.
The cover of 'Defined by Others' is intriguing, just as the book is.

MCV Egan's 'Defined by Others' deftly scales the issues of death, middle-aged women, social media, parenting, homosexuality, and much more.

This book engaged me in the maze of lives of its characters. And it left me with much to think about... Do we ever mature from the insecure teenagers? Or do we just learn to mask our emotions better? Do we just get better at keeping secrets? Are we always troubled teenagers at heart? Does everyone lead, or wants to lead, a double life?
Social media has certainly made it easier to lead double lives...

"...There are all these anti-bully campaigns in schools, but what about the real world? What about when life slams into you like a brick wall and everything changes? Where are all the loving, forgiving, helpful adults?"

The feelings of women, afraid to age, on the threshold of major changes in their lives, physically and emotionally are movingly described by the author. The insecurity of living life depending on being 'defined by others' seems to be true for almost everyone, irrespective of what their life seems to be like.

"...any forty-seven-year old woman who does not realize she is struggling with both hormonal changes and a huge fear of aging is in denial."

*   *   *

About the Book:

A word, a single word defines a moment for Anne. She needs to find a new one when her spouse leaves her at the age of 47, coming out of the closet literally in a closet. She finds herself back in her hometown amongst her high school friends which she left behind in her past.

An inheritance from a friend leaves her with the means to meddle and spy on the lives of some of their mutual acquaintances. In an attempt to run from her reality Anne gets engrossed in a game of "fun" and "flirtation" with her friend and fellow sufferer Connie at her side. Anne however did not read all the files and what to her is fun games turns into a deadly reality. It is no longer a game.

Life, death and not even a defining word can stop the reality of manipulation.

Buy Links:

Character Sketches:

The characters in Defined by Others are predominantly women. They are all flawed and for the most part very superficial. Some of their flaws are surprising and others are logical. 
I chose women born in the year 1965, I did this to work with a play on Chinese Astrology.  I made them 47 years old as the book takes place in 2012, one of the characteristics of female snakes according to Chinese Astrology is that they are all very beautiful.

I wanted characters that were superficial and very worried about their physique and how others see them; thus being defined by the opinions of others.

The women have a connection as teens from growing up in the same affluent town in the American Northeast. The story is fueled by who they are at 47 and who they were at 17.

ANNE is one of the main characters and the story is told from her point of view, in her voice. She is fluent in many languages and loves words. She likes to define every moment with just one word. Her husband recently left her, and he left her broken and confused. Divorce is hard at any age, but divorce because the man you shared almost two decades with realizes he is gay must be brutal
Anne has a nice side, she is forgiving of her husband, she tries to get into his skin and appreciate that his confusion, she is still however so confused and vulnerable that when life presents her with a way to make other’s suffer as she has, she is pretty quick to grab it.
She has adolescent twins, she is however a very detached parent, as the story evolves she identifies that she continued the family pattern with which she was raised.
In the course of the story she has to make numerous life changing decisions. Anne is in a journey of self-discovery and she has likable and dark traits.

CONNIE is also a main character, she is curiously linked to Anne because her respective husbands have fallen for each other and left them. Connie has been carrying the pain and confusion longer than Anne. She is broken and lonely and in Anne she sees the possibility of a friend, ally or at the very least fellow sufferer.
Like Anne she does not blame the man who left her, and respects that as the father of her children, she needs to wish him nothing but the very best.
She loves to nurture and to cook. She goes completely against her nurturing nature as the story evolves, because she is so hurt, confused and unbalanced.
As much as Connie chooses to also manipulate those she sees as her foes, there is a very tender and likable side to Connie. She loves her children very deeply and is very lost when the main focus of her life changes; she was born to be the quintessential mom.

AMANDA is dead, during the entire story-line she manipulates with her legacy from the very grave. She was ravaged by an illness that magnified her negative traits, and if the other characters are to be believed there was nothing positive about Amanda.
As the story progresses I do give Amanda a background a reason to be so dark, I did so because otherwise the character would be too flat or cartoon like as an image of pure evil.
During her illness she devices away to be cruel and most involved with the women in her past and present. Upon her death (not a spoiler this is the opening of the book) she leaves her “game” to Anne, it is a game of manipulation and deceit through social media.

ALLISON is mean, she identified as Amanda’s mean girl side-kick but she too is a victim of the manipulation game. I have had readers contact me, and it is indeed Allison they seem to dislike the most, I did not feel a need to give her as much depth or an excuse for her nastiness, as she is a secondary character. I just wanted to show that although she is vulnerable, she is also a natural leader.
She is clever and assumes she is far cleverer than she really is. As I wrote Defined by Others I did want Allison to be a sort of live walking continuum to Amanda’s nasty side.

PETER is the only male in the story who is very present, the husbands are in the sidelines. Peter is a lawyer, he connects with Anne at the beginning of the book as Amanda’s lawyer. 
He is kind and understanding, he falls for Anne and he falls hard, he is also divorced and as such looking for a new way to fit in. He is not privy to Anne and Connie’s machinations, but he does suspect they are up to no good.
I wanted Peter to be a very easy man to love, intelligent, successful, and vulnerable. I had to make him vulnerable by having his ex drop him in a cruel and hurtful way. I made him Amanda’s reluctant lawyer so that he would be aware that Anne had inherited something odd and questionable from Amanda, I did not want to turn him into a detective, he needed some level of awareness to make him believable. 
I also had him fall in love with Anne, but fall in love with Connie’s cooking and thus forming a strong bond with both women.

MRS. G. (Anne’s mother) is a character that is as much represented by her dialogue and appearances throughout the story as she is by her “secret room”. Mrs. G. was a liberal adventuresome lady who is also defined by others, and as such she pretends to be as conservative as those who surround her world.

She has a special room, full of New Age Books and other secrets, she is as such very present throughout the story.

About the Author:

M.C.V. Egan is the pen name chosen by Maria Catalina Vergara Egan the author of The Bridge of Deaths and Defined by Others. Catalina is originally from Mexico City, Mexico. She has lived in France, Sweden and various parts of the U.S.A.
She has called South Florida her home for the last twenty-five years; she is a writer, a mother a wife and a pretty good cook.

Her first book The Bridge of Deaths is available in two different versions, her book Defined by Others is the first in a series Defining Ways exploring what makes us flawed and human.

Book two Climbing Up The Family Tree; Defined by Pedigree will be released in November 2015.

Contact the Author:

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  1. WOW... what an interesting review, I love to see my work through the eyes of the readers. Thank-you very much for hosting me and reviewing the book.

    1. It is so good to have you visit my blog...
      Thanks a lot. I am happy I read your book... and now I am happier that you enjoyed the review :)

  2. Sounds quite intriguing. Great review.


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