It started with Tupperware. Nice. Neat. Stacks. Of perfectly burped Tupperware.
From there it went to thoughts of deathbed confessions…and the psychology of secrets. Secrets, says Australian novelist Liane Moriarty, are like carrying a heavy load up a hill, but even harder. And revealing a secret is like putting down that load, she says. “Just writing down a secret releases stress hormones.”
That’s how Moriarty began creating John-Paul Fitzpatrick, the seemingly perfect and perfectly handsome husband of Tupperware saleswoman extraordinaire and mother of three Cecilia Fitzpatrick, both of The Husband’s Secret, an Australian-set novel that was named one of USA Today’s 30 Hot Books for Summer 2013.
Moriarty claims to have no secrets herself, though she does have a messy pantry. But she is curious about those who are the opposite of her—like the real-life Tupperware consultant she knows who has a pantry full of nice, neat stacks of perfectly burped Tupperware and the imaginary John-Paul who has a terrible, terrible secret that he confesses in a letter he writes upon the birth of his first daughter—a letter that is to be opened only upon his death.
John-Paul doesn’t die, but Cecilia does open the letter. And as the first line of
The Husband’s Secret reads, “It was all because of the Berlin Wall.”
The Berlin Wall? In a novel set in Australia?
Moriarty needed a plot device and the Berlin Wall, which she, like Cecilia, owns a piece of, fit that need. Simply put, Cecilia’s middle daughter is obsessed with the Berlin Wall, so Cecilia climbs into the attic to find her souvenir piece of the wall to give to her daughter and instead finds the letter. She promises John-Paul she won’t open it. But after a night of “very good sex,” after far too many months of no sex at all, she opens it. And suddenly, organized and efficient Cecilia has a secret that carries more stress than she or her airtight Tupperware can hold.
That’s why Moriarty set The Husband’s Secret in the world of the Catholic faith—where the parents are Catholic, their children attend St. Angela’s Catholic school and they’re about to celebrate Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. “Confession is such a big part of the Catholic religion, and I’m a lapsed Catholic,” she says. “But I think the Catholic guilt thing is still a big part of me, so I tend to confess.”
Surely, despite her proclamation otherwise, Moriarty has a secret. Surely, she needs to lay down that burden by confessing it. And I’m ready to hear that confession.
“I’ve got a fairly clear conscience at the moment,” Moriarty insists.
I don’t believe her.
“I do,” she says. Then she readily whispers, “I’ll tell you a secret, but my little five-and-a-half-year-old son has just put his head around the door, and I shouldn’t reveal it in front of him.”
I wait eagerly, as she softly closes the door.
“When I go to the supermarket, I sometimes buy the little peanut butter cups, which are new to Australia…and I have it in the car just for myself. And I just sit there and eat the peanut butter cup before I go home, and I haven’t bought anything for the others.”
It’s not exactly what I was hoping for, but I’ll take it, because Moriarty is so good at writing about eating sweets. Her character Rachel, who works at the Catholic school that Cecilia’s children attend, and whose daughter was murdered 30 years before, seeks comfort in sugar.
She selected a red [macaron] and took a tentative bite.
“Oh, God,” she moaned a moment later, and thought, for the first time in she didn’t know how long, of sex. She took a bigger bite. “Mother Mary.” She laughed out loud. … It was exquisite; the raspberry flavor of the creamy center was like the barest of fingertip on her skin, the meringue light and tender, like eating a cloud.
I don’t ask Moriarty about writing sex, though she is very good at that, too. Her character Tess, a shy mother suffering marital woes and…well, I can’t tell you anymore. It must remain a secret, though it goes back to St. Angela’s and whether to confess or to keep secrets…in nice, neat, stacks of perfectly burped Tupperware.
As the author of the memoir Secret Sex Lives: A Year on the Fringes of American Sexuality, Suzy Spencer has intimate knowledge of secrets—both keeping them and confessing them.