Secrets from a Happy Marriage
Maisey Yates’ first foray into women’s fiction is a perfectly acceptable if overstuffed and predictable yarn. Secrets from a Happy Marriage is about healing, growing and trying to find true happiness – all in that familiar way.
Rachel Henderson has been dealing with her husband Jacob’s terminal illness for years, and when he passes away after years of suffering, she has to deal with the remnants of their twenty year marriage and the pain at the prospect of starting over again.
Emma, Rachel’s daughter, is waiting for a college acceptance letter that will take her far from her family’s Cape Hope Inn and hopefully to an exciting future studying marine biology in Boston, when her father dies. Forced to give up her dream, she’s unable to grieve her father and bitter about being stuck at the family’s inn.
Anna, Rachel’s sister, is married to Thomas, the local pastor. Anna’s unsatisfying marriage has led her to seek both an affair and eventually a divorce. This quickly turns her into the town scandal, something about which she is defiant.
Wendy McDonald works for the local historical society and is Anna and Rachel’s mother. Her latest project involves chronicling the love story between Olaf and Jenny Hansen, the first bride and lighthouse keeper to occupy the historic lighthouse which eventually became The Lighthouse Inn, where Wendy is a chef and Rachel helps run things and lives with Emma. With a full house and the possibility of new love (with one of the Hansen’s descendents to boot) on her plate, Wendy is concerned about how her daughters will adapt to the challenges facing them.
As Rachel embarks on a relationship with Adam, who works at a local diner, the sisters begin to get closer, and Emma falls into a secret relationship with the mysterious Luke. How will all of the McDonald women manage to find love and new beginnings?
Yates does have a few really interesting things to say about love, together with some beautiful passages about moving on and meditations on grief. That pushes Secrets from a Happy Marriage a grade above where I would normally rank it for its simplistic plot. Yates is good, and her characters – particularly romantic, wistful Wendy – make the book stand out from the pile, even though the story does not service them well.
However, the most fascinating of the four main women here is Emma. Balanced between a need to escape and a first-love romance about whom everyone but her is realistic, she’s part child, part woman, part old soul.
Anna and Rachel too, have depth all of their own. Rachel’s grief is painfully realistic, her mourning process and fear of new love (and ecstasy in it) are beautifully crafted. Anna’s journey, meanwhile, is much more about acceptance of self than romance, which is perfectly pitched. The book’s relationships work well, with the one between Rachel and Anna – fraught because of Anna’s lack of discipline, her need for Rachel to play caretaker – being particularly interesting.
But this plot has been done so many times in women’s fiction, and while grief is something we will all face in time, there’s nothing duller than seeing it executed and spoken of in the exact same way over and over again. You know they’ll find love again, you know they’ll find a way to stay planted in the town’s warm, rich rockbed, and little happens to challenge that impression.
Overall, Secrets from a Happy Marriage, while not Maisey Yates’ best is nonetheless absolutely readable and contains a number of memorable pieces of writing.
Buy it at: Amazon, Audible and your local independent bookstore.
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