THE LAST SECRET by Mary McGarry Morris

Book Quote:

“Every event, every memory, every conversation, however innocuous, demands examination, each word and detail culled, dissected in the harsh light of this new terrible knowledge – – that for the past four years her husband has been sleeping with another woman.”

Book Review:

Review by Bonnie Brody (OCT 8, 2009)

There are some books and authors that I’d like to have with me on a desert island. Mary McGarry Morris is one of those writers. I have always been drawn to her books, their dark and brooding nature with the sentience of doom and fatality omnipresent. I can almost smell the darkness when I read her novels, feel the desperation of the dissolute and the outsider. I have read all but two of her books and those two I’m saving for a very special time and place – – a desert island kind of moment. She’s THAT good a writer.

The Last Secret is powerful and unflinching. В It builds up slowly but the tension and angst keep coming. The characters are disgruntled, desperate, despairing, fragile, with huge currents roiling through their being as they try to keep their inner and outer storms at bay. Some characters are loathsome, despicable and pathetic. These are juxtaposed with others who try to stay strong, keep one foot in front of the other, and maintain independence at all costs. What Ms. Morris is so excellent at portraying is that while people try to fool themselves into believing that they have certain attributes better, worse, or more unique than others, most people are actually quite alike in that they harbor these components: the good, the bad and the evil.

When she was seventeen years old, Nora ran off with a troubled young man named Eddie Hawkins. During the week she was with him she drank a lot, got into situations that were outside her comfort range and behaved in ways that she thought were completely outside her moral compass. At one point Eddie asks her to come on to an older man and encourage him to follow her outside a bar so that Eddie can rob him. The older man follows her and something dreadful happens. Nora is never sure of the exact details but she has a recurrent nightmare that the man has his face bashed in by a tire iron and that she is the one who commits the crime. What she also remembers, is that after the “incident” she is covered with blood and that she hitches a ride with a semi driver who manages to get her away from the scene of the crime and encourages her to call her mother. She calls her mother and returns home, bringing with her a lifetime of guilt and nightmares.

Skip forward twenty-five years. Nora is now happily married (so she thinks) to a man named Ken and she has two teen-aged children, Drew and Chloe. She has married into old money and works on the family-owned newspaper in New England. From the outside, everyone is happy and the family looks perfect but, as Nora believes, “Happiness so often trails a long shadow.” She soon finds out that Ken has been having a “relationship” for the past four years with one of her best friends. Nora’s world is shattered. Her family is torn apart and in the process other, and often darker, secrets come to light. “Behind every truth lurks a darker truth. Behind the simplest reality, betrayal.”

Nora is philanthropic and she is deeply involved with the volunteer board for Sojourn House, a home for battered women. Sojourn House has received national attention and Nora is being photographed by Newsweek magazine for her work there. Eddie Hawkins, sociopathic and narcissistic, sees Nora’s picture in the magazine and recognizes her from their week together twenty-five years earlier. He travels across the country to Nora’s hometown and sets himself up there in a cheap hotel. He contacts Nora who does not know what he wants but she has a stomach-turning, gut-wrenching uneasiness about seeing him. Her gut reaction is that he has sought her out to blackmail her for the role she had in what she thinks may have been a murder twenty-five years previously. She is a victim of perceived blackmail. Eddie Hawkins arrives just as her marriage and life are falling apart. Though fragile, angry and unsure on the inside, Nora comes across as independent, strong and almost cold on the outside. This is a common theme in Ms. Morris’s books – – the outside harbors the seeds of the inside, and vice verse.

As Nora is dealing with one family secret and betrayal after another, the book proceeds to get darker and darker, with a deeply ingenious plot and wonderfully deep and crisp characterizations. I felt like I could reach out and touch the characters, they came so alive. Characterization is one of Ms. Morris’s greatest gifts (and she has many). She examines the inner and outer worlds of her protagonists and leaves no stone left unturned. That, along with a breath holding plot, make this one of the best books I’ve read this year. I finished the book in two days, hardly coming up for air. My only disappointment was that I didn’t want it to end. I wanted to continue to be a fly on the wall watching, and watching, and watching some more.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-3-5from 18 readers
PUBLISHER: Shaye Areheart Books; Stated First Edition edition (April 7, 2009)
REVIEWER: Bonnie Brody
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Mary McGarry Morris
EXTRAS: Excerpt
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October 8, 2009 В· Judi Clark В· No Comments
Tags: , ,  В· Posted in: 2009 Favorites, Contemporary, NE & New York

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