A woman wrestling with a dark past travels to her husband’s hometown and discovers that he’s plagued by secrets of his own.
In this novel, Alice Bennett is a successful magazine writer happily married to Will, a handsome, high-priced lawyer. But after she finally discloses unseemly secrets about her past—her father was “an abusive alcoholic” and she struggled with the same addiction—that breach of trust upends her marital bliss. So when her mother-in-law, Mae, is badly injured in a fall, Alice travels to the Georgia mountains to help her recover, an opportunity to curry favor with Will and slowly regain his affection. But as Mae’s memory begins to return—she had suffered a concussion and her recollection of the accident had been hazy—she comes to believe a man intentionally pushed her. Later, Mae’s dog is attacked; her property catches fire; and someone seems to have maliciously tampered with her medication. The police suspect Larry Lee Simms, known as one of the “town bullies” with a penchant for violence and petty crimes, who’s probably responsible for a string of recent burglaries. In addition, the Simms and Bennett families share a long history of unresolved acrimony and have “been at each other’s throats for generations.” As Alice digs deeper into the town’s buried past she learns Will harbors terrible secrets of his own and that his own checkered history is somehow woven into the mysterious danger that threatens Mae. Rivers (Best Laid Plans & Other Disasters, 2017, etc.) artfully conjures a melancholic atmosphere of dread, and the promise of unraveling a skein of closely guarded secrets keeps readers in a state of tantalizing suspense. The novel’s characters are vividly real and portrayed with great psychological nuance and moral sensitivity. But the author’s prose can be clumsily theatrical and sprinkled with clichés: “If looks could kill, he’d have been six feet under.” And she tries far too laboriously to explicitly draw moral edification from her own story, apparently anxious her readers aren’t paying attention: “She’d learned a very real and nearly fatal lesson about keeping secrets.”
An enthralling family drama despite the author’s impulse to overnarrate.