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Naked Soul by Gwynne Forster
(Genesis Press, $15.95, PG-13) ISBN 1-885478-32-1
***
Della (née Ludell) Murray has come a long way. She escaped a life of poverty in her Pine Whispers, North Carolina, hometown and had carved out a career at the United Nations. As Naked Soul begins, Della is looking down from her 16th floor office in the UN Secretariat Building. She's also looking down her nose at others.

"Why was it that most of the men she saw in her building who had any appeal also had a low-level job, low income and poor prospects for a better life? Take the one repairing the keyboard of her computer . . . Every time she sent for a repairman, regardless of the machine, this one answered the call. He was good at what he did, she didn't consider him a washout, but she couldn't help wondering why, with his seeming intelligence and charismatic personality she didn't reach higher."

Della Murray is a B-, er snob. And the man she is mentally disparaging is Luke McKnight, CEO of a successful company that designs electrical equipment and holds a service contract to repair machines and equipment at UN headquarters.

Luke personally answers Della's service calls because he is attracted to her and wants to get to know her better. He finds that up close and personal, Della needs a bit of work. She is attracted to him, but his job and status rule him out as an acceptable suitor.

I really struggled with Naked Soul. I liked Melissa Roundtree, Nadine Malloy and Naomi Logan – heroines from other Forster novels. But I found Della's character unpleasant. Not only does she blow Luke off as "a common laborer," but she is disrespectful to her parents and neglects her grandmother and younger sister. I kept asking myself: "What does Luke see in Della?" I figured there was something I wasn't getting so I read Naked Soul again.

Della's grandmother held the answer: "Everybody is somebody to somebody."

And a closer look at Luke uncovers some of his flaws. Luke, who was reared in Polk Town, North Carolina, is closer to his family than Della is to hers. Like Della, Luke is the oldest child. Where Della has a laissez-faire relationship with her family, Luke is more hands-on. He has sent three of his siblings to college and is making plans to help his youngest brother. However, Luke's love is what singer Joe Simon called "The Choking Kind." His father has to remind him: "If you love a person, you have to accept them on their terms, not yours. Unconditionally. Nobody's perfect."

Luke and Della face several moments of truth. And, while there isn't total redemption, Gwynne Forster presents two characters who are painfully honest in their depiction. Perhaps that's what causes the greatest discomfort.

Naked Soul is a reminder that nobody's perfect and everyone deserves a chance at love. It shows that love can bring out the best and worst in others. And that "Everybody is somebody to somebody."

It's worth a look.

--Gwendolyn Osborne


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