It’s every widow’s worst nightmare. You are going through your deceased husband’s desk to find an envelope, addressed to you, with the foreboding word...more It’s every widow’s worst nightmare. You are going through your deceased husband’s desk to find an envelope, addressed to you, with the foreboding words: “To be opened only in the event of my death.” But imagine if you were still a wife, not yet a widow, with a husband very much alive, a devoted mother, and a fixture of the community. Imagine if your life was just about perfect. This is exactly what happens to Cecilia Fitzpatrick, the main character in Liane Moriarty’s engaging and, above all, human fifth novel aptly titled The Husband’s Secret.
What would you do? Do you open it? Do you risk everything? Do you really, truly want to know the possible deep, dark secrets held within? And once you know—what then? Once the secret is out, it can never be taken back. Can’t you just see the story in the “Can This Marriage Be Saved” section of one of your mom’s old Ladies’ Home Journal Magazines?
Cecilia has already discovered the letter when Moriarty opens her narrative. It’s not until page 144 that Cecilia finally opens the missive to read the secrets held within. I think she showed incredible restraint. Moriarty tends to ramble as she shows us Cecilia’s inner struggles—to open the letter or not to open the letter. The author’s tactic is purposeful and full of meaning. Cecilia’s once orderly and careful world changes rapidly, literally within seconds. She has gone from the woman who had everything together to a directionless, unsettled person. After all she has been through, who wouldn’t be all jumbled?
Moriarty superbly compares Cecilia’s opening the letter to Pandora opening the jar from which “all those dreadful ills would go whooshing out to plague mankind forevermore.” Willpower loses out to natural curiosity in most instances. In this way, The Husband’s Secret is very real and relatable. We’re all human, and Moriarty puts both a human and humane spin on this tale.
So many different scenarios spun through my head as I wondered exactly what the husband’s secret would be. I admit I have a very active imagination. Okay, here we go. He’s got to be a terrorist, and he decides he will only confess after his death. Or this: He’s planning on assassinating the president. I mean—come on, he does have three names after all—classic future president killer. Or yet: He has to be in the witness protection program. He’s hiding from the Mafia. Or still: He is leading a double life, with another wife and family. For me, the latter seemed to be the most common scenario, and I cheered when none of the above came to fruition. Moriarty manages to keep her premise fresh and different, and she succeeds in engaging the reader and keeping her guessing.
The Husband’s Secret a pure joy to read. Moriarty creates an honest rendering of a marriage, of a life, and of a family. So many emotions permeate these pages, and Moriarty captures each and every one of them perfectly. We’re all imperfect and heavily flawed. We’re all human. We just cannot resist letters or even jars, despite what they might contain. And that’s all part of the fun of life. The Husband’s Secret will surely be a hit with book clubs as the story will resonate with women of all ages. I imagine many women will take the discussion from the book club back home to the bedroom.
No one brings the Ozarks region to life like Daniel Woodrell, critically acclaimed author of Winter’s Bone. Woodrell’s newest work The Maid’s Version...moreNo one brings the Ozarks region to life like Daniel Woodrell, critically acclaimed author of Winter’s Bone. Woodrell’s newest work The Maid’s Version explores the causes and repercussions of a dance hall fire in West Table, Missouri, in 1929, in which 42 people were killed. The bodies were so horrifically burned that loved ones identified many victims only by the trinkets and effects they left behind. Woodrell ably illustrates how tragedy knows no income level and can reverberate through many generations.
Woodrell’s masterful talents are on full and prominent display in The Maid’s Version as he mines the depths of real history in this novel. A similar and equally dreadful catastrophe occurred in a dance hall in West Plains, Missouri, in 1928. The explosion took the lives of 39 men and women; the cause of the fire still remains a mystery.
In The Maid’s Version, Alma DeGeer Dunahew thinks she has the answers. Alma, mother of three young boys, wife to a husband who is mostly absent, and maid to a prominent family, lost her outrageous but much-loved sister in the explosion. Convinced her sister’s illicit love affair with a powerful and very married man caused the fire, Alma upsets a lot of people and opens wounds that never healed. Her long and fierce quest for the truth alienates her from those in her community and in her own family.
Years later, she tells all to her beloved grandson, urging him, “Tell it. Go on and tell it.” Alma is illiterate, and his words are her words. It is a very powerful thing as his separation and distance from the awful event set him apart. He is unbiased; he is meticulous; he is her proxy.
Woodrell superbly juxtaposes the end of the carefree and spirited 1920s with the dance hall fire followed by the Great Depression. When tragedy first falls on the town, it seems to stay as depression and suspicion envelope the community. Since The Maid’s Version is a fictionalized version of an actual historical event, the story becomes even more compelling because it is achingly real. With spare prose, unforgettable characters, and a setting that fully captures the period, The Maid’s Version is a quick read but one that lingers and deeply satisfies.(less)