Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Book Review: Truths I Never Told You

By Jami Deise

Over my past eight years of reviewing books for Chick Lit Central, Kelly Rimmer has become one of my favorite authors. Her latest book, Truths I Never Told You, while not as strong as her two previous novels (The Things We Cannot Say and Before I Let You Go), offers her go-to mixture of family bonds, family secrets, mental illness, and meaningful endings.

In 1996, child psychologist Beth Walsh recently became a mother after years of infertility. But her failure to bond with her baby Noah and other odd behaviors have left her close family baffled and worried. She’s extended her maternity leave, but her mother-in-law is caring for Noah almost daily. Cleaning out her family home after her dying father is moved into hospice, Beth uncovers clues that her mother, who died in a car crash when Beth was a toddler, might have died earlier than her family thought… and that her father wasn’t always the terrific guy who raised them single-handedly. Is there a connection between Beth’s behavior and her mother’s death?

Beth’s first-person narrative alternates with her mother Grace’s diary in the late 1950s. Later on, Grace’s older sister Maryanne joins the story with her impressions from the late 50s-early 60s.

To be honest, it took me a little while to get into this book. I’ve read a lot of novels featuring post-partum depression, so Beth’s issues didn’t feel revelatory to me, and placing the current narrative in the 1990s made the diagnosis draw out even longer. And by necessity, a first-person narrator suffering any kind of mental illness won’t create the kind of bond with the reader that readers expect. Grace, suffering from the burdens of too many young children and a husband who drank away his paycheck, is surprisingly eloquent and expressive for someone in her position… almost unbelievably so.

For me, the book didn’t come alive until Maryanne’s introduction. I had thought the story was moving in a certain direction, and Maryanne introduced a logical and timely plot twist that spun the narrative off from a personal story into something with broader political and social implications. Maryanne herself made an engaging protagonist, an early feminist who stood up to her parents and vowed not to be trapped into the roles that 1950s society demanded that women play. I loved her.

With Maryanne’s voice, the story comes together quickly—in some cases, too quickly—and things pick up speed until its inevitable climax. By this point, the book is “unputdownable.”

While Truths I Never Told You isn’t as strong as The Things We Cannot Say, the latter book is so good that the comparison may be unfair. Just as she does in Before I Let You Go, Rimmer uses the story of one family to illustrate how public policy can hurt and punish society’s most vulnerable people. I wish she had found a way to place this book in the present, because the scenario she describes may soon be common again.

Thanks to Park Row for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Kelly Rimmer:


Janis said...

I am dying to read this. The Things We Cannot Say is by far the best historical fiction ever.

JeanneK said...

I love historical fiction and this is at the top of the list. She is an incredible writer! Thank you for doing this!