Relativity by Antonia Hayes

By Ekta R. Garg

April 13, 2016

Genre: Women’s fiction

Rated: Borrow it / 3 stars

A single mother tries to protect her son from the truth about his father, but events force her to share the past. When her ex-husband reappears, the mother must choose whether to forgive the one man she loved the most for the one act she can’t forget. Debut author Antonia Hayes takes readers on a virtual tour of Sydney, Australia, in her ho-hum novel Relativity.

Former ballerina Claire Forsythe spends her days as the head of philanthropy for the very discipline she once practiced. In many ways Claire still thinks of herself as a dancer, but she doesn’t let her mind wander too far in that direction. Ever since she became a single mother to Ethan, now 12 years old, she has put him first.

Claire never imagined she’d spend her life as a single parent, but after the conviction of Mark, her ex, for shaking Ethan as a baby to the point of unconsciousness she knows she doesn’t have a choice. She can’t let herself get wrapped up in any romantic entanglements. Ethan is her top priority. No questions asked.

Except that Ethan does ask questions, a lot of them. As an exceptionally bright middle schooler, Ethan understands the laws of physics and astronomy in a way that both confounds Claire and makes her proud. When he tries to press her on his father’s identity and why Mark left, Claire dodges the issue. But Ethan isn’t satisfied with Claire’s evasiveness.

Their lives become complicated when Mark comes back to Sydney from his new home in northern Australia. Mark gets a call from his brother, Tom, with the news he has dreaded: their father is dying. Despite the fractious relationship he and his dad have always shared, the inevitability of his father’s condition spurs Mark into making the trip to the city he swore he’d never see again.

Coming back to Sydney reminds him of the trial, of his conviction and time in prison, and Claire. Despite his insistence that he didn’t shake Ethan, that the judge and jury got it wrong, she allowed herself to believe what everyone else said about him. His relationship with his ex-wife is just as complicated as his relationship with his father.

He contacts Claire, but she wants nothing to do with him. His arrival in Sydney inevitably draws her in, though, like a planet to a star, and this time Ethan becomes entranced by Mark. Ethan decides to embark on a personal quest to prove his father’s innocence, and the results will bring all three of them face to face with the events of the day that split them apart.

Author Antonia Hayes manages to charm readers with physics metaphors. Her in-depth knowledge of the subject will offer a solid backdrop to the world she’s created for her characters. Likewise, her verbal tour of Sydney will take readers to familiar and less-familiar sites and induce fondness for the city.

Hayes keeps the revelations of the day Mark shakes Ethan until the end, letting readers guess through the characters’ recollections whether he actually did hurt his child or not. That guessing game more than anything else will motivate readers to continue reading. Hayes offers a fresh take on the ultimate revelation, on Mark’s feelings about the situation and especially on the stark challenges parenting presents.

Ultimately, however, the novel as a whole probably won’t surprise readers much. Hayes hits all the “good enough” benchmarks of a book about the complications of parenting and separated families. Also, while she hints at troubles in Mark’s childhood, she doesn’t offer enough concrete information to justify his behavior. Because the book deals with a crime readers may find those gaps frustrating.

In the end the book joins the legions of other novels that tell a story well but don’t make a lasting mark. I recommend readers Borrow Relativity.

(I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)