A friend of mine recommended this book months ago, and then I saw it pop up on all kinds of reading lists. Confession: I have a love/hate relationship with fiction like this, what's often deemed "chick lit." I love that many of these books are generally quick, interesting reads with well-developed characters and plotlines; I hate that some of these books either suck completely or are what I call "fluffy books." Whipped cream for my brain, if you will.
Fluffy books are like dessert. An absolutely delicious indulgence and frequently unsubstantial. While I always select a few fluffy books for vacation or reading outside by the pool (because it's fun, and life without dessert is lame), I honestly prefer to spend my time reading things that make me think, feel or learn something.
So back to The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty -- I definitely judged the book by its title, deeming it fluff material, and then I rented it from the library and could. not. put. it. down. I read the whole thing in a day -- outside on the porch, on the couch with a sleeping Stanley on my lap, while making dinner, while eating dinner. We had plans to watch a movie that Sunday night, per the usual Sunday plan, and I obnoxiously kept sneaking glances at chapters just to find out what would happen next. Then I stayed up way past my bedtime to finish it because, I mean, I was 67% done according to my kindle and knew I could polish it off.
Then I dreamed about the story that night and thought about the characters the whole next day. That's how you know a book is good, my friends.
The Husband's Secret begins with Cecelia Fitzpatrick, who is the epitome of a stereotypical woman who "has it all" three beautiful children, a popular husband who was the crush of all her friends back in high school, a successful Tupperware business, a huge home. She's actively involved in her children's lives and schooling as well as the school parish, and she serves as the always-put-together know-it-all of their small town in Sydney, Australia. One day, Cecelia discovers a letter written by John-Paul, her husband, directed to be opened by her upon his death. She asks him about it, and he responds with uncharacteristic anxiety, asking her never to open it. Of course (obvious spoiler alert), she does, and the contents rock her safe world as she knows it.
Rachel Crowley runs the parish school that the Fitzpatrick children attend. Years ago, Rachel's teenage daughter, Janie, was mysteriously murdered and the case was never solved, which haunts her to this day and causes everyone around her to treat her with kid gloves. Her remaining shining light is her grandson, whom she adores. When she learns that her son, whom she isn't close to, and his wife are moving to America, taking her grandson with them, she is crushed. Rachel embarks on a vendetta to solve Janie's murder, focusing on the man she always thought was to blame -- Connor, the high school gym teacher at the parish school who went to grade school with her daughter and was the last person to see her alive.
Tess O'Leary runs a creative advertising agency in Melbourne with her dear husband, Will, and best friend/cousin, Felicity. Tess loves working with her two favorite people during the day, and then coming home to peaceful domestic life with Will and their young son at night. That is, until she learns that Felicity and Will are having an affair. Horrified, Tess flees with her son to Sydney, her hometown, to cope and also care for her mother. She struggles to make sense of the affair, enrolls her son in the local parish school and runs into a former flame.
As you can see, these three plots eventually tie up together, which is one of my favorite narrative devices, but they focus on substantial issues and questions on their own. Cecelia ponders what it means to have a "good life," how to make sense of the reality that you can't know everything about your partner, why good people make bad decisions -- and how long they should be punished.
Rachel's palpable portrayal of grief emphasizes how people who experience tragedy want answers and someone to blame no matter what's true. That's shown in her distance toward her son and dislike of her daughter-in-law. Rachel can hardly bear her own pain, so she avoids her son, and she despises her daughter-in-law for merely existing since her real daughter no longer does. She is determined to be right at any cost about who killed Janie, but how far does one go for justice?
Tess tries to sort out how to cope with someone else's choices, ones that have created chaos out of nowhere in her life. She also explores issues of betrayal and revenge. If Will hurt her, should she hurt him back? Can she start over, and does she want to? How do you forgive infidelity, emotional or physical, by the people you love most?
All three characters figure out how to forgive in order to move forward in their lives -- and each choice is different, making a case for various perspectives. Should we always forgive the people we love? Is anything unforgivable? Does honesty always win out as the best option, or are some things left buried?
Moriarty serves up some huge questions in this tale of three women and the secrets involved in their lives. I especially appreciated her refusal to provide a happy-ever-after; the most interesting aspect of the book's conclusion is that fact that you're not quite sure who made the right decision. It's all fluid -- much like life.