The past two weeks I have been reading Liane Moriarty’s novel The Husband’s Secret. It was recommended to me by my roommate Anne-Marie, who read the book last summer and has several of Moriarty’s works on her bookshelf. At the time I was submitting a short story to a competition and pitching my idea to her and Aaron. I was overwhelmed with pride and confidence when Anne-Marie told me “Hey, that sounds pretty good”. I was anxious and uncertain about my idea, but she and her fiancé seemed to like it. Anne-Marie went on to say that my idea reminded her of The Husband’s Secret, and suggested I read the book. I leapt at the chance. Although I don’t reject the old adage of “Write what you know”, I find that it can be misleading and restrictive for young writers trying to find their voice. Instead, I subscribe to the philosophy of “write what you want to learn about” or “write what you want to read”. I had written this story about a mistake, a rush of blood, a split-second decision, and how such a moment might affect someone for the rest of their life. That was the kind of story I was interested in telling, and so that was the kind of story I was interested in reading.
I had just finished James Salter’s A Sport and a Pastime and it was a great read- a mesmerizing book. However the rules I have set myself this year are as follows: that whenever I finish a novel, the next one I decide upon has to be different. I’m looking for variety. Salter’s voice is, as I wrote in my review, especially masculine in tone. I needed a female author to read from next. Moriarty was a great choice, because in her novel The Husband’s Secret, you follow the point of view of three women. The chapters alternate (kind of like A Song of Ice and Fire) and you quickly develop a very intimate connection with each woman. Although the novel is categorized as a thriller, the book is a lot more nuanced than that. Yes, the plot is underpinned by a superb mystery that has the addictive quality of “Double-Stuf” Oreos. But that’s not really what the book is about- not in my opinion at least. The novel touches on themes of motherhood, fidelity, marriage, the mundanity of suburban life, and the effects the passing of time has on a person and their relationships. It’s about mothers and wives trying to keep it together. There are no heroes and villains in this book. Moriarty has such a sharp eye for the flawed and conflicted hearts of the everyday person. I kept going back and forth with how I felt about the characters. The conclusion I ultimately came to was what Moriarty is trying to drive home: that there are no simple, clear choices and answers. Everything is infinitely complex. I’m not saying that the book is morally relativist, but rather that it emphasizes the importance of understanding and contextualizing human behavior- especially decision-making.
Another way in which The Husband’s Secret turned out to be the right choice for me following A Sport and a Pastime is that the latter is almost plotless- it is a hazy, kaleidoscopic journey into the male psyche, a beautifully-written, dominatingly-atmospheric account of raw desire- whereas the former is all about pace and suspense. Moriarty is a certified badass in this regard. Her book is more than twice as long as Salter’s, but I read it so much faster. I couldn’t get my mind out of the heads of those three women. I had to know what the hell would happen next. I spent every available opportunity getting in whatever reading I could. I spent a few days volunteering for a solar analysis survey in the ‘burbs of western Houston, and I’d be walking down the street whilst reading this book, almost tripping several times on carelessly placed raccoon turds and fire-ant mounds.
The basic, spoiler free premise is that the story takes place in Sydney, Australia and sees the intertwined narratives of three women: Cecilia- one of those superhuman, crazily-efficient suburban moms that seems to have the ideal middle-class life, Tess- an introvert struggling with social anxiety, and Rachel- an elderly lady grieving a personal tragedy. The “inciting incident”, as they say in film school, arrives in the form of a letter Cecilia discovers in the attic, addressed to her in her husband’s handwriting, but with the warning that it must only be opened in the event of his death. I’ve mentioned before on this blog my obsession with what is known as the “Butterfly Effect”, and I think it’s a big reason why the story and its characters resonated so much with me. All of them, throughout the narrative, obsess over time. Rachel in particular is stuck about twenty years in the past, trapped by it, and spends all her time wondering about what may or may not have happened in an alternate timeline. Tess- my favorite character- constantly dwells on cause and effect, and whether the choices she makes are the right ones. There is a theme of “What would happen if-” and that is what brings me to Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken”.
I was introduced to the works of Robert Frost in 2012 in a survey of postbellum American Literature (the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th, basically). He is, coincidentally, my sister Anne-Marie’s favorite poet. After she recommended his works to me in the summer of 2014, I returned to them and bought myself a copy of his Collected Poems. The poem “The Road Not Taken” is one of his most famous. I had not planned on writing about it in this post, but I discovered during my initial blueprints for this piece that Moriarty’s novel reminded me of it. Specifically it reminded me of an aspect of the poem that often gets overlooked. For many years people have read the poem as a celebration of individualism, a rejection of conformity, a simplistic and moralistic affirmation that the narrator is not “following the crowd”. According to Frost’s biographer Lawrence Thompson, this is a misinterpretation. The poem is actually a much darker and much more complex examination of the human condition, specifically the tendency of people to “waste energy regretting any choice made”. Frost himself indicated that this was the correct interpretation, saying that the poem is based on his friend Edward Thomas, “a person who, whichever road he went, would be sorry he didn’t go the other”. I am inclined to believe this reading. It speaks to something endemic to the human experience, something we can all relate to; it’s about indecision, regret, and the importance we attach to all our choices, inconsequential or not.
I was reminded of this as I came to the end of The Husband’s Secret. The book’s epilogue in particular has some fascinating revelations. Everything is tied up- this masterfully crafted plot- and finally you see everything in its entirety. Everything is understood. I think you should read it, so I won’t say anything specific. I encourage all of you to step outside your preferred genre and try books like this one. If a book is so excellently written that it touches on the universal elements of society, culture and the human condition, then I believe anyone no matter their personal tastes can and will enjoy it. This book was published in 2013, so Moriarty is definitely an author of our age, a voice of the present day. It proved to be a bestseller and there’s going to be a film adaptation of it starring the (super hot) actress Blake Lively.
This post owes special thanks to my roommate and best friend, who in this blog we call Anne-Marie (she is of French ancestry). If you enjoyed this piece, please consider giving me a Like or Subscribe! Let me know if you want more of the same, or me to write about something new! Also, I would love to hear from any other Moriarty fans out there in the comments! Thank you for reading.