How to Keep a Secret
The recent trend of romance authors moving more towards general fiction that focuses on women has produced a variety of offerings. How to Keep A Secret joins many others in the middle: a fine story, but one that made me miss the author’s past works and mourn this shift away from romance.
In this novel, we meet four women who are all adept at keeping secrets – from themselves, from each other, from everyone. Considering they are all related and those secrets impact the lives of everyone around them, the decisions they make in order to keep those secrets have intense repercussions. Lauren has the textbook perfect life in her London flat – if she ignores all the small details that make it not perfect and the fact that her daughter, Mack, is not weathering adolescence well. Lauren’s sister, Jenna, is an ocean away on Martha’s Vineyard, coveting Lauren’s life and desperately wanting perfection of her own in the form of the baby her body seems unable to carry. Their mother, Nancy, has never been a nurturing mother, but she has her reasons as to why.
Lauren’s tenuous perfection is destroyed when her husband dies suddenly and leaves behind a mountain of debt she was unaware of. She and Mack have no choice but to head across the pond and move back to her home and that’s when the plot takes off. I am wary of revealing any details beyond that – for they get into spoiler territory fairly quickly – so suffice to say that if you are intrigued by generational dynamics and how secrets and lies play out across those generations, you may well like this book.
There are things that the author does well, and I don’t want my ‘meh’ attitude towards this book to cloud the skill that is present. Each woman gets to tell her story in her own PoV, and Ms. Morgan does a great job of differentiating between them. They’re all selfish and unlikable, but they’re supposed to be, and to that end, their characters are well developed. It does, however, make the first half of the work very hard to slog through if you have a low tolerance for self-centered characters (as I happen to).
Where this all fell down for me is that I never really cared. Apologies for being so blunt, but the justifications for the secret-keeping didn’t work for me. They frequently read as excuses, not explanations, and I had a hard time believing the redemptive journey of some of the pain caused. Ms. Morgan does a yeoman’s job with what she has, but the foundations were shaky to begin with.
I know there are readers out there who will disagree with me, and who will adore this book. I think our differences are going to come down to how much secrets fundamentally bother you. I tend to favor over-sharing – more communication is always better to my mind – and so I have limited patience for secrets between people committed to relationships (parents, partners, siblings, etc.) without some really serious justification and I saw no such justification here.