The Husband’s Secret

9780399159343_p0_v4_s260x420What if – you found a letter with instructions to open after the writer died, but that person was still alive – would you open it?  I would not be able to resist, and when Liane Moriarty teased with that cliffhanger through several chapters – about 200 pages – of The Husband’s Secret, keeping the contents hidden, the speculation of what is in that letter is as much fun as learning the actual content.  If you remember Moriarty’s What Alice Forgot, you know she can take an improbable storyline and drench it with humor, pathos, and even a few life lessons.

Three lives intersect in this drama: Cecilia finds her husband’s sealed “do-not-open-until-after-death” letter in a stack of old tax forms, while he is on a business trip; Tess flees from Melbourne to Sydney with her young son when she discovers her husband and best friend have fallen in love – and asked that they all live together as one big family; Rachel’s beloved two-year-old grandson is about to relocate with his family to New York City, as she continues to search for the murderer of her teen-age daughter, killed twenty years ago.  Yes, there is a murder, but the mystery of whodunit is solved early in the tale, with consequences and suspicions connecting these three women’s disparate lives.

The story premise is captivating – I read it quickly to know the outcome, and Moriarty does produce an unexpected surprise at the end.  After the shocking climax, the denouement offers more likely “what if” scenarios that have a nostalgic effect, but the clear message to be responsible for yourself, not everyone else, can connect to all of us who get tired of being good all the time.

Hard to categorize Moriarty’s style – more than chick lit, mystery thriller, romance, beach read – and always satisfying.  Now I’m looking for some of her earlier books – seems there are quite a few I’ve missed from her website.

Review of “What Alice Forgot”

The Moment

Fifty years ago in August, 1961, the border between East and West Germany was sealed and the new Wall kept anyone from leaving East Berlin.   This barrier to freedom stood until November, 1989.  In The Moment, Douglas Kennedy creates an event that changed the life of Thomas Nesbitt in Berlin in the 1980s when the Wall was still up.  Nesbitt, a travel writer, recently divorced, receives a package that forces him to remember his earlier years in Berlin.

Kennedy methodically wallows through over a hundred pages revealing his own theories on the writing process, true love, and the war – wisdom that seems mostly trite.   Not until the flashback with Nesbitt in Berlin twenty years earlier in the 1980s does the action start, with the narrative becoming a mix of historical fiction, romance, and spy thriller.  As Nesbitt relives his time in Berlin with Petra Dussman, an East Berlin translator for Radio Liberty who escaped to the West, his descriptions of a time and place that existed not that long ago are a window to living through the Cold War.

“The tension of being in a largely forbidden place, where the undercurrent police state paranoia was…tangible. East Berlin: the bogeyman of all Cold War nightmares.”

Petra’s backstory, when finally revealed after she and Nesbitt have become lovers,

Berlin Wall

confirms the horrors hidden behind the Wall. The descriptions of guilt by association as well as incarceration with physical and mental torture are compelling to read – the espionage only adds to the fervor.

Kennedy divides the story into five parts:  Nesbitt facing his demons in a loveless marriage; the flashback that slowly builds the historical snapshot of the Cold War; the climax with love, betrayal, coerced patriotism, and regret; the big reveal – not so hard to predict – when Petra tells her version of the story. Kennedy unnecessarily repeats too much of the story already told – until it diverts into an unexpected twist.

In the end, Kennedy returns Nesbitt to the present and ties up all the loose ends. Checkpoint Charlie has vanished, no traces of the Wall remain, Petra leaves a final letter, and Nesbitt makes an investment in the future.   In his last words, Nesbitt invokes “the moment…that tells us who we are, what we search for, what we so want to unearth…”  In Nesbitt’s life, Petra was his moment.

Did I like this book? Hard to say.   Yes – for the history, the romance, the bits of spy thriller.   But – over 500 pages – too long a moment.  The story could have been reduced to about 300 by omitting much of the repetition and clichéd observations on life and love.

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