Things You Won’t Say by Sarah Pekkanen

By Ekta R. Garg

June 10, 2015

Rated: Bypass it

A woman deals with the aftermath of a shooting, but her husband isn’t the victim: he’s the shooter. As the wife of a cop, the woman has lived for many years with the possibility that her husband might get injured in his line of work. But how does she deal with the opposite outcome? Author Sarah Pekkanen offers readers a novel based in current times in the well-meaning but melodramatic book Things You Won’t Say.

Stay-at-home mom Jamie Anderson spends her day running after her three kids and keeping house, but the reality of her husband’s career doesn’t stray too far from her mind. Mike is a police officer, and Jamie knows that one day the phone could ring and she’ll get the news that no officer’s spouse wants to get. The day the phone does ring, though, Jamie doesn’t expect the news: Mike’s partner at work got shot and might not make it. The worst part? Mike feels responsible for his partner’s injury.

In the weeks following the shooting, Jamie watches Mike deal with what is clearly post-traumatic stress disorder. Her concern for him heightens as he returns to work after a short leave. No longer as easygoing with the kids or as attentive to her, Mike slowly withdraws from everyone. Jamie wants the old Mike back, but as time passes she becomes less and less sure of how to approach him. Then one day the phone rings again, and the officer on the other end informs Jamie that Mike has fatally shot a Hispanic teenager.

Things at home go from bad to worse. Mike insists the teen posed a threat to him and his new partner, but witnesses from the scene—including the other officer—can’t verify what Mike saw. Jamie loves her husband, but she can’t escape the nagging thought that Mike’s anxiety might have forced his hand.

Adding to the apprehension, Mike’s ex-girlfriend enters the home picture in a more proactive way. Jamie normally deals with Christie, the ex, in a fairly even-handed manner, but that’s becoming harder to do when Christie’s cluelessness makes small tasks more complicated. Jamie’s sister, Lou, deals with her own social issues, but Jamie may have no other choice than to count on Lou to help at home until Mike’s situation settles down. Her relationship with Mike becomes even more strained, and Jamie worries that the life she and Mike worked so hard to build may get destroyed by a split-second decision.

Author Sarah Pekkanen pulls a novel straight from current issues, and for that reason her story might have resonated with readers. Unfortunately she draws the lines of her plot so large that readers may find it difficult to feel any sympathy whatsoever for Jamie. What starts as a well-intentioned plot grows into caricatures. Pekkanen may have set out to show the inside of a difficult situation, but her efforts fall short.

Pekkanen spends a considerable amount of time following the points of view of Christie, the ex, and Lou, Jamie’s sister. The personal challenges of Christie and Lou almost trump Jamie’s dilemma in terms of the amount of interest generated. Christie lives in her own bubble of reality; Lou works in a zoo and prefers the animals to the company of humans. The disproportionate amount of time spent with each of the secondary characters might make readers forget where the story left off with Jamie and Mike, which in turn dulls the impact of the main dramatic arc. Jamie’s continued refusal to reach out to Mike will guarantee that that impact falls completely flat.

I recommend readers Bypass Things You Won’t Say.