Book: Best Kept Secret by Amy Hatvany
Publisher: Washington Square Press
Publication date: June 7, 2011
Source: Unsolicited copy mailed to me from the publisher
Summary: Best Kept Secret by Amy Hatvany is about a woman whose life falls apart due to alcoholism. She drinks to oblivion in front of her son. Her ex-husband takes the boy away from her. Her sister checks her into a hospital psych ward. From that place of rock bottom, Cadence Sutter begins a slow and hesitant recovery, unsure what is left in her life that is worth recovering, except for her five-year-old son, Charlie. Her love for him is the beacon that guides her path.
Thoughts: I didn’t expect to find much of interest in this novel, having little in common with an alcoholic single mother. However, since the book was sent to me by a publicist and I’m still new enough to book blogging to be excited by that, I decided to give it a fair chance. The narrative voice engaged me from the beginning so that I couldn’t stop reading after I got started. Before long, I discovered that I had several things in common with Cadence Sutter, after all. I identified with her struggles to write, her gradually developing interest in good cooking, and the steps on her path to sobriety that aren’t all that different from the steps on the path to sane eating.
Cadence’s story, in fact, helped me work out a problem I’ve been having in my life. Late in the story, on page 293, when her life is starting to right itself but she still doesn’t have custody of her son, she experiences an unexpected moment of peace:
…it hits me that I was never this relaxed when Charlie lived with me. My house was never this clean, my work was never quite done. I always felt that I wasn’t good enough at anything I tried to do. When I was working I felt like I should have been with Charlie. When I was with Charlie I should have been working. I was never in the moment–I was always looking in the direction I thought I should have gone.
Cadence, of course, is immediately racked with guilt at this evidence that some things in life are easier without a small child in tow. But one doesn’t have to be a mother to have this sort of experience, just being a modern person in the modern world is enough for many of us. This paragraph struck me because I experience that relaxation so seldom and for similar reasons. There is always something else that I should or could be doing and I’m rarely convinced that the thing I am doing in any given moment was the right choice.
Having that realization a couple of weeks ago when I read this book has led to some improvements. My to do lists are still too long, but I’m getting better about identifying a handful of things on them that are highest priority. Doing those few things will make me feel satisfied with the day whether or not I complete the rest. I also realized that I was continually hounded by the notion that I should be writing more, so I worked out a way to do that and find that there are fewer moments in my day when I am “looking in the direction I thought I should have gone.”
Appeal: This will appeal to mothers, since it explores many issues around societal expectations, feelings of inadequacy, and family dynamics. As I proved, however, it will also appeal to women who were never mothers. The themes are broad enough to capture the angst of the modern woman no matter what her roles are in the world. By revealing the stresses and cracks in our lives, this novel is ultimately redemptive.
Reviews: TeddyRee, The Eclectic Reader, shared with me an initial resistance to the subject matter of this book but came to love it anyway.
Have you read this book? What did you think?