By Ekta R. Garg
December 18, 2013
Rated: Borrow it
A woman discovers a letter addressed to her from her husband; the instructions he wrote on the envelope instruct her to open it only in the case of his death. The only problem? He’s still alive and in excellent health. Obviously something compelled him to write this letter, but what? Author Liane Moriarty offers readers this plot with inextricable subplots in the well-intentioned but slightly faulty novel, The Husband’s Secret.
Cecilia Fitzpatrick organizes her life down to the last Tupperware container—literally. As a Tupperware representative, she gets to let loose her inner organization freak by throwing lovely parties and earning an income to supplement her husband’s lucrative career. She also keeps track of the school functions and extracurricular activities of her three daughters all while barely breaking a sweat, and she revels in the compliments she receives about her organization skills from her adoring friends and acquaintances.
One day Cecilia comes across a letter in a sealed envelope. Her husband has written her name across the front and asked her in a short note not to open it unless he dies. But he’s not dead. Cecilia becomes confused; what should she do? Clearly he wanted to share something important enough with her to write a letter, but why would he want to wait until he’s dead to share it? While Cecilia resists for a while, at a certain point she finally gives in to the temptation—and her life and view about her marriage change irrevocably.
Author Liane Moriarty gives readers two key subplots that tie into the letter: the first about a mother grieving the death of her teenage daughter. Rachel Crowley, a widow, will never forget the day her sweet girl, Janie, died, and every day since Janie’s death have become an exercise in resolution and fortitude. As Janie’s death anniversary approach, Rachel finds it even more difficult to cope. When her son and daughter-in-law announce a move to New York City from the book’s setting of Australia, Rachel becomes devastated. After Janie died Rachel only began to find purpose when her son got married and became a father, making her a grandmother. If her only grandchild moves halfway around the world, how will she face the rest of her own life?
The second subplot focuses on a woman who works with her husband and cousin-cum-best friend, only to find out that said husband and cousin have fallen in love. Tess and her cousin, Felicity, have grown up together, even sharing birthdays close to one another. At one time Felicity’s obesity kept Tess somewhat in the spotlight between the two, but now that Felicity has shed much of the weight she has transformed into a much happier person with more confidence. So much, Tess discovers, that Felicity feels compelled to start flirting with Tess’ husband, Will. Will doesn’t think much of the flirtations at first, but over time he convinces himself that maybe Felicity is his soul mate and the two come to Tess claiming a chastity to their relationship but true love nonetheless.
Moriarty takes these three women—Cecilia, Rachel, and Tess—and brings them together in a rather unlikely way. While Cecilia and Rachel’s connection seems somewhat plausible, Tess’ inclusion in the story feels extraneous. In fact, the plotlines of Cecilia and Rachel that begin parallel and eventually intersect are far more interesting reading than Tess’ story. For all purposes, Moriarty could have dropped Tess completely and not lost any of the drama or impact of the result of Cecilia and Rachel’s interactions. I almost wished she had. At some point Tess becomes more of a distraction from the two endpoints that her counterparts form instead of the sturdy third point of a triangle. While Tess does get some resolution by the end of the book, it just feels unnecessary. The outcome of her story thread doesn’t really affect Cecilia or Rachel much at all.
For the most part, however, Moriarty’s The Husband’s Secret will keep readers guessing until the end about how it will all play out. I recommend it to readers with the disclaimer to keep an eye out for Tess and not to feel guilty if they want to skim or even skip her portions. Readers won’t miss any of the real action if they do.