The Hubby Secret

Hubby’s Got a Big Ol’ Secret

This book is not what you think it is. Jennifer, like some of you, protested—wanting very little to do with any book which included a word from the following list: club, daughter, sweet potato, husband, bitter, or hotel. Lara insisted. But, in recent Snotty Literati history (and we’re pretty new, folks), it’s been proven that Lara is more likely to pick books we actually like, while Jennifer is more likely to snotty it up. Because Jennifer pushed a very obscure, inaccessible book that she didn’t even finish, Lara succeeded in getting The Husband’s Secret on the table. Jennifer had no choice. After all, she made Lara read Moby Dick last year. In this long, potentially cheesy novel, we have a bunch of Australian women in mostly two stages of life: married with kids in their late thirties or early forties, and their mothers who are widowed or divorced grandmothers. But things are happening—a secret in a letter, a kinky affair, a hot gym teacher who might be a murderer, and women who are alone in their sixties. What happens, though, is not what you’d expect. And, we aren’t spilling any of the beans because we want you to experience this book and all of its twists as we did.

Jennifer: First, I want to say that I admire you for your ability to read whatever crap you want. Second, this wasn’t crap. I concede. The title is off-putting, and it eliminates some great readers. But it hasn’t hurt her in the least bit. The book is on the bestseller list. So I am officially put in my place.

Lara: A few things. Thank you and you are welcome. I also want to offer an advance “you’re welcome” to anyone who reads The Husband’s Secret after checking out our review.

Second, I rarely, if ever, read crap. Nor do I watch crap. I am like The Great Taste in Books, Music, Food, and Movies Whisperer. I probably need to work on my modesty, but we all aren’t perfect.

Third, and not thirdly (NEVER thirdly). This is a great book, despite the trite title and the ultra-feminine cover. I want everyone to read it. Even the guys. Guys? Are you there? Will one or two of you read this?

Jennifer: They won’t, but what are you going to do? (I would like to hear from you, if you’re a guy who’s read this.) And I appreciate that thirdly business.

I know you specifically don’t want to dwell on the chick-lit question, so I won’t. Except for this one quick comment. I don’t think it’s chick-lit at all. End of story. Not worth belaboring. I had no problem on that front. We’re also a little flippant in the intro. The book really takes things like a kinky affair and a hot gym teacher—and plants these things firmly in reality. While there is some crazy shit going on in this book, I have to say that I was struck by the reality of the novel. The crazy shit is not all that improbable. I felt like these women were where many of us might be. Their plight, not so removed. Their pains, universal. I thought Moriarty wrote real women.

Lara: Absolutely. Moriarty has created a novel with three alternating storylines that are equally interesting, which I think is hard to do. The book is extremely well-architected.

You’ve got Cecelia and John-Paul Fitzpatrick, living an enviable life with their three daughters when a shocking secret threatens to ruin it all. Literally. Then you have Tess and Will O’Leary, younger marrieds and parents of Liam. News of Will’s mutual attraction with Felicity (Tess’s formerly fat, now beautiful, cousin) puts their relationship on a break, resulting in actions far worse than initially anticipated. And lastly, there is Rachel Crowley, a 68-year-old school secretary who works with Phys Ed teacher Connor Whitby, the man she believes murdered her daughter Janie over 20 years ago. Lack of evidence and failure to perform an autopsy leaves the murderer unknown.

As a summary description, this may sound over-the-top or scandalous, but Moriarty’s book is somehow grounded in feelings and experiences that are all too real. Her characters think and do real things that I could see myself doing. Like when Will and Felicity admit their attraction to Tess:

“Then she changed her mind, put the cups back down, and while Will and Felicity watched, she carefully selected the two fullest cups, lifted them up in the palms of her her hands, and with a netballer’s careful aim, threw cold coffee straight at their stupid, earnest, sorry faces.”

Or when Cecilia’s daughter Isabel share’s a horrible story about a death at the Berlin Wall followed by youngest daughter Polly’s decision she no longer wants a pirate-themed birthday party:

“A red traffic light loomed, and Cecilia slammed her foot on the brake. The fact that Polly no longer wanted a pirate party was breathtakingly insignificant in comparison to that poor man (thirty!) crashing to the ground for the freedom that Cecilia took for granted, but right now, she couldn’t pause to honor his memory, because a last-minute change of party theme was unacceptable. That’s what happened when you had freedom. You lost your mind over a pirate party.”

I couldn’t put it down.

Jennifer: I think I might be most struck by that aspect of it. I couldn’t put it down, either: it’s a page-turner. When a book is so compelling, I’m given pause—not only as a reader, but as a writer. How does she do it? Most writers—even good ones—aren’t like that. It’s rare, really, for me to be so into a book. I may love a book, but still not be burning through it like I did here. We joke that it’s like book-crack. We’re addicts. We’ve used this phrase on only a few books, though. What accounts for that? I know this might blow your mind, but Liane Moriarty looks like an unlikely candidate for page-turning goddess. And what was your last real page-turner?

Lara: Writing a page-turner takes talent. The last real one I read was—don’t be mad—Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins. Knowing you, I need to also offer up a more literary one. For that, I will say Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple. That was fantastic. Even if the title was missing a question mark.

Jennifer: Yeah, what’s up with that? Where’s the question mark?

I’ll say Catching Fire too! In addition, though (and, um, unlike Collins), the writing is very good here. We move from nice description (“the drawstring of wrinkles around Virginia’s mouth”) to humor (“My daughter was murdered,” said Rachel. “That gives me a permanent ‘get out of party’ card for the rest of my life.”), from an interesting motif on the Berlin Wall that runs throughout the novel (I probably would’ve preferred a Berlin Wall reference in the title) to great commentaries on marriage and middle-age like this one:

“ . . . they were suddenly doing that crazy, tear-each-other’s-clothes-off, banging-into-walls things that you never do once you’re in a long-term relationship because it seems too theatrical and not really worth the bother anyway, especially if there’s something good on TV.”

Here’s my Snotty criticism, which isn’t full-fledged criticism. The book hasn’t sat . . . hmm    . . . heavily with me. I’m not being pulled back to it. I’m not thinking about it too much. There have been other good books that I’ve felt this way about. I felt this way about Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings, actually. It’s not that these books are lightweight; they aren’t. I actually felt the characters in The Husband’s Secret articulated a certain quiet desperation (is that a cliché?) of what it’s like to be a married mother of a certain age. I think Moriarty nailed it.

But, for some reason, this book is not staying with me like others recently have. For instance, we just read B.J. Novak’s One More Thing and I just read Francesca Marciano’s The Other Language. Staying power. I’m no longer thinking much about Dave Eggers’ The Circle, though I liked it a lot. Still thinking about The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, though.

Lara: Interesting. This book is totally staying with me. Not in a “it will change your life” kind of way, but in a “you must read this book” kind of way. It’s just a really good book. Plus, anyone who reads it can do so quickly and get back to binge-watching the recently released second season of Orange is the New Black, hop in the pool, fire up the barbeque grill, or do whatever it is they do when they aren’t reading books or our column.

As much as I liked One More Thing, everyone won’t love it or read it based on the sheer fact that it’s a book of short stories. The Husband’s Secret will attract more readers simply because it’s a novel.

Jennifer: But everyone should read One More Thing.

I’ll end with two things. I do want to stress that Moriarty offers insight into the plight of womanhood. One of the moms responds to her daughter’s confession that she’s possibly falling in love with a guy who isn’t her husband. Her mother says,

“So what? People fall in and out of love all the time. I fell in love with Beryl’s son-in-law just the other week. It’s not some sign that your marriage was damaged.”

Elsewhere, once the secret in The Husband’s Secret is revealed, we get this:

“This was how you lived with a terrible secret. You just did it. You pretended everything was fine. You ignored the deep, cramplike pain in your stomach. You somehow anesthetized yourself so that nothing felt that bad, but nothing felt that good either. Yesterday, she’d thrown up in the gutter and cried in the pantry, but this morning she’d woken up at six a.m. and made two lasagnas to go into the freezer . . .”

I don’t know about you, but I think I’ve done that.

Lara: We all have—at least those of us who don’t broadcast every moment of our lives. The reality is we all have secrets, tragedies, roads we have to take and, often, we have another life, our public life that involves family, friends, and jobs that have to maintain some semblance. I think this book captures that, until it all intersects at the book’s climax, which is gasp-out-loud good.

Jennifer: The book’s epilogue is also wonderfully written and provocative.

Lara: Yes! Provocative is the perfect word for it! And it was one of my favorite parts of the book. One of my earlier predictions actually came true in the epilogue. My only criticism of it was that she could have ended it two sentences earlier. Less, in this case, would have been more. But it wasn’t a deal breaker. It was still, overall, a highly satisfying read.

Next Month!

The Sound of Things Falling by Juan Gabriel Vasquez. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s the breakout best seller of last summer. Hailed by Edmund White as “a brilliant new novel” on the cover of the New York Times Book Review. It was one of NPR’s Best Books of the [Last] Summer. It received starred early reviews from Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Library Journal, and Kirkus. Plus, we think our male readers, all three of them, will like it.


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