Monday, June 22, 2015

Review: A Small Indiscretion by Jan Ellison

How long does the past haunt us? How long does it have the power to hurt us? How long must we pay for mistakes we made so long ago? And who determines when the debt is paid? Jan Ellison's tautly paced debut novel, A Small Indiscretion, asks these questions and more.

In Annie Black's current life, she is a married mother of three in the Bay Area who owns a light fixture store, crafting unique fixtures from recycled materials and found objects. In her complicated and youthful past, she lived and worked in London. When a solarized photograph from that time arrives in her mailbox without a return address, she is thrust back into the memories of that time, never guessing how it will ultimately impact her present. But when her nineteen year old son is left in a coma after a terrible car accident, Annie starts writing a confessional letter to her son, teasing out the ways in which her past and present have twined together in him and the unthinkable situation their family now faces.

Told in the second person narration of an intimate letter to son Robbie, Annie recounts the story of her older, married boss cum lover Malcolm, his wife Louise, and Patrick, the photographer artist with whom both she and Louise have a relationship. The telling jumps back and forth in time from this distant past, when Annie had a rather reckless disregard for consequences and other people, and the present in which her long-time marriage to husband Jonathan is fraying at the seams thanks, in no small part, to the unrevealed past she has unthinkingly kept from him. As Annie tells her story, trying to figure out how this past can still be extracting payment in her present, her recounting is sometimes emotionally distant, as if she has any deep feelings on a very tight rein, unwilling to allow them full expression and giving the narration a sort of repressed feel. Annie as a character is sometimes frustratingly passive and her narration can be disjointed, as would any mother's given the harrowing pressure and uncertainty under which she is living.  She is the center of every piece of the story leaving the secondary characters to be just that, secondary. The rising sense of impending disaster and complete discovery is masterfully done, even if the denouement is ultimately predictable for careful readers. For those who don't guess the truth because they are barreling through the pages, there is a slow reveal as Annie's lies of omission come to light. The writing is smooth and the story is a gripping one tinged throughout with the mildly disturbing feeling of things hidden and menacing. Ellison has created a tense tale of obsession, forgiveness, secrets, and consequences that will haunt the reader long after the last paged is turned just as Annie's past haunts her.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.

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