There are unexpected consequences after four 30-ish women share a weekend of drinking and revealing—or not revealing—secrets in this debut Australian novel.
Joni, Deb, Trina, and Eden first bonded as Scorpios with surnames ending in C while they were high school freshmen in 1993. Joni, who brought them together, has always been the rule follower, Deb the pretty, popular one, Trina, of Chinese descent and raised by a single mother, the tough athletic one, and Eden the shy, easily led one. By 2016, when the four gather at a rented beach house for the vacation weekend they have shared annually since they were 21, each has married and begun a career of one sort or another. Joni, feeling less connected because she’s the only one who's childless, comes up with an idea to “restore their friendship,” suggesting that each woman write down a secret on the beach house computer and print it out to share anonymously with the others. Shortly after Eden’s letter is read, Joni comes across a half-burned fifth letter that reveals that one of her friends secretly hates someone else in the group and sometimes has violent feelings toward that person. Joni is shocked. Her attempts to figure out who is telling which secrets are often misguided, influenced by her resentments toward the other women and her insecurities about her marriage. In fact the most serious secrets may not even be revealed in the letters. While her friends have moments that hint at psychological complexity, central character Joni remains annoyingly whiny and judgmental. More seriously, the sense of mystery and intrigue the novel is attempting to develop remains lukewarm. Too often the truths revealed are anticlimactic compared to the buildup, and the italicized interludes spread throughout the novel, in which Joni “confesses” to a remarkably progressive priest, add little except a too-cute romantic twist.
Shallow characters and an obviously manipulated plot defeat the usually winning trifecta of friendship, marriage, and motherhood.