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THE WORST THING I’VE DONE by Ursula Hegi

THE WORST THING I’VE DONE

By Ursula Hegi

Pub Date: Oct. 2nd, 2007
ISBN: 978-1-4165-4375-6
Publisher: Touchstone/Simon & Schuster

Grim, gripping fiction from Hegi (Sacred Time, 2003, etc.) about childhood friends whose triangular relationship goes horribly wrong.

Annie drives around eastern Long Island at night, listening to psychologists’ call-in programs to distract herself from the horror of her husband Mason’s recent suicide. He hung himself in Annie’s studio, among her collages so she’d never be able to work there again, making sure that she would be the one to find him. And he did it after he’d goaded her and their best friend Jake into an act (unspecified at first, but it’s clear what happened) that prompted Annie to tell Mason their marriage was over. We quickly learn that Mason has threatened suicide before when he didn’t get his own way and that he’s pathologically jealous. The narrative intermingles past and present—including a pre-suicide monologue by Mason—to show the three children growing up in adjacent houses; the tensions that arose from Jake’s mother providing paid day care for Annie and Mason; fraught teenage years of shifting sexual alliances; the death of Annie’s parents in a car accident on her wedding day, leaving 19-year-old Annie and Mason to raise her newborn sister Opal as their daughter; Annie’s struggle to deal with Mason’s suicide, her guilt and Opal’s furious bereavement. Every development demonstrates that Mason was, from childhood, a sociopath: greedy, selfish, a liar and a manipulator. The problem—and it’s a big one—is that we never see the charm that must have accompanied his pathology, so it’s very hard to understand why the other two didn’t dump him years ago. Despite this major plausibility issue, the story compels by virtue of its sheer velocity and a host of well-drawn subsidiary characters. But a heavily foreshadowed final revelation isn’t the epiphany Hegi seems to intend, and any hope suggested by Annie and Jake’s reconciliation is decidedly dampened by the chilling portrait of Opal, who appears to have acquired by example Mason’s tendency to threaten and punish.

Extremely readable, but thoroughly unpleasant.