Book Reviewed by Walter Benefield
Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "We are not makers of history. We are made by history, Dr. Matthew (Matty) Allen Green knows this all to well. On his first night on call as a medical intern, Matty is forced to confront his disturbing past. When a mysterious patient is admitted into the hospital, Matty begins to experience unexplained discomfort and what he thinks is hallucinations and swears he is being watched. The patient, an elderly Negro woman, Mrs. Morris (Grandma), serves as an unlikely guide for Matty into a past as bad as his own, if not worse. Matty's trip back in time is a reconciliatory journey designed to relieve his pain and hurt and leave him a caring and whole person.
Taking place in the present, nineteen nineties and sifting back into the past, nineteen seventies, "Touched", deals with strong themes like physical and sexual abuse and racial relations. The cultural and social differences that exist between the nineties and seventies are worlds apart and merging of these two worlds creates a world that is hard to believe exist. The two villains within the novel are said to be giving each other high fives after doing their dirty deed, did people high five each other in the seventies? In the world of "Touched" there exist a small town utopian society. By it's definition a utopian society is idealistic and impractical, understanding this explains if utopia could exist even to a limited degree it would have to be in a science fiction world.
I believe the best should be reserved for last so here it goes. Matty and Grandma, his guide into the past, keep in touch across a parallel universe type of arrangement, where time has stood still. This is where the science fiction kicks into high gear. In the past, Matty is a phantom type being, seeing and feeling but not seen or felt. The time sifting within the novel is reminiscent of Octavia Butler's "Kindred", However unlike "Kindred" in which the main character sets out to save a life, Matty can only watch as a tragedy takes the life of an innocent. The limited interaction with his surroundings takes the control out of Matty's hands, the result is that Matty has no choice but to watch what happens around him even when he wants to intervene, he cannot. This restraint put on Matty coupled with strong emotional themes reaches out and touches the reader. There is a haunting reality that comes off the pages of "Touched" that tragedies can happen and in fact do happen and that people like Matty live their entire lives without ever getting the needed relief from their pain and suffering.
Linda Armstrong-Miller's "Touched" does a good job of staying on point and does not make the all to often mistake of trying to include too much in a first novel. Aside, from greats like Frank Yerby, Octavia Butler and occasionally Walter Mosley, the African American presence in science fiction has been minimal. Subsequently, new works in this genre are encouraging and a joy to see and read.