Kirkus Reviews QR Code
THE GRETCHEN QUESTION by Jessica Treadway

THE GRETCHEN QUESTION

by Jessica Treadway

Pub Date: June 9th, 2020
ISBN: 978-1-883285-89-0
Publisher: Delphinium

A woman must decide whether to reveal her most intimate secrets before she takes them to the grave.

Roberta Chase wakes up one morning and takes inventory of what she has to do that day: go to a work meeting, put away her best friend’s trash cans, and meet with her therapist. But from the beginning, there is an undercurrent of anxiety to every moment of Roberta’s day that suggests these activities, and this day, may not be as mundane as they seem. Told from Roberta's perspective and relying heavily on flashbacks, the novel reveals a great deal about what has brought Roberta to this point—and what may push her to take action, to make a decision she has been avoiding for most of her life. These flashbacks introduce us to the people in her world, especially her best friend, Grettie, and her estranged son, Will. And with each fragment of story, we are faced with a singular rule of life: Every choice we make has consequences. As Roberta proceeds through this day, heading toward a significant face-to-face confrontation, there are hints that she may not be presenting even us, the readers, with the full truth. And then the ending of the book casts doubt on Roberta's honesty, or her grip on reality, in a big way. As a reader, when faced with a possibly unreliable narrator, we wonder: How much can we trust anything they have told us, any piece of their story, if we can’t trust the “reality” of their own ending? But, in the case of Treadway’s novel, this unreliability also speaks to deeper layers of the novel. Roberta is caught in the trap of her own “Gretchen Question” (an allusion to Faust explained within the novel), but there are also larger questions posed by the novel to the reader: How do you qualify and find value in your life when you are nearing the end of it? What do you owe those you leave behind? And what do you owe to yourself?

A thoughtful, and thought-provoking, meditation on love, loss, and legacy.