Nicole Conn, director of lesbian movies Claire of the Moon and Elena Undone, has written a beautiful, yet realistic romance describing the characters of the movie Elena Undone. In California, Elena Winters, wife of a pastor leading a homophobic congregation, is trapped in a loveless marriage and a life of chores and activities not of her choosing. She is lonely and longs for more sustenance in her life. Peyton is an openly-gay writer with a dying mother and an unsympathetic wife. She struggles with OCD and throws herself into her work, but still feels the same loneliness as Elena. One day, after Peyton’s marriage ends, she and Elena meet in an adoption center, and begin an intense friendship…which leads to something even deeper.
Elena Undone is a gripping read, and its storyline and plot follow smoothly the events of the movie. The scenes are described in a way making each one vital to the story’s movement. Even better, the book took me deeper into Peyton and Elena’s worlds. Conn fleshed out each character to the max; they felt so alive, like I could actually bump into one of them. Characters such as Tori, the walking-encyclopedia girlfriend of Elena’s son Nash, Peyton’s hilarious and loyal friend Wave, and Millie, a congregant at Elena’s church who has eyes for her husband. All were given their own quirks and drawbacks that made them human, and likeable or not, depending on the character.
Details that were hinted at or omitted from the movie worked into the book beautifully. Peyton’s OCD was much more clarified in the book. This was not mentioned at all in the movie, but Elena and her husband Barry had lost a daughter to SIDS, and Elena felt immense guilt, feeling she could have done something to prevent the sad death. I also learned more on how Elena and Barry met and became a couple, and their hard years together before Barry became a pastor. Peyton’s strained relationship with her mother is explained better in the novel as well, and all these details weave a clearer pattern for the characters and the story.
Elena Undone takes the romance between Elena and Peyton into a dreamy state, with erotic narrations and tender words between the lovers. Yet the book also shows the stress and emotional cost of leading a secret, double-life. The tension between Elena and Barry becomes more pronounced with each page turn. Elena tries to take care of her family while at the same time falling in love for the only time in her life, but sooner or later something is going to topple over.
But Elena Undone also conveys the hope of things working out for the better, and out of all the chaos comes the blossoming ending that left me warmed and fulfilled. This novel is truly a wonderful edition for lesbian literature.