THE HUSBAND’S SECRET by Liane Moriarty
In The Husband’s Secret, we first meet Cecilia Fitzpatrick and get a glimpse of her busy life in Sidney as a mom of three girls, one of the top Tupperware salespeople in Australia, and the head of the parent association at her daughters’ Catholic elementary school, St. Agnes. The seemingly straightforward premise of the book quickly unfolds. While Cecilia’s husband, John-Paul, is away on business, she finds a letter addressed to her in her husband’s handwriting hidden in a random box in the attic. On the envelope her husband also wrote the words, “to be opened only upon the event of my death.”
Before we get to see if Cecilia will open the letter, we jump to Melbourne where Tess, another central character, is told by her husband, Will, that he’s in love with Tess’s cousin, Felicity, who also happens to be Tess’s best friend and business partner. Tess declares that she’s going to her mother’s house in Sidney to give Will and Felicity time to get this fleeting (she assumes) love affair out of their system and she’s bringing their six-year-old son along so he can go to school at St. Agnes, where Tess went as a child.
We still don’t know what’s in that letter when we meet Rachel, the sixty-something-year-old administrative assistant at St. Agnes. Rachel’s life has felt stuck and half-lived since her daughter, Janie, was murdered when Janie was seventeen.
Cecilia, Tess, and Rachel all know each other through their connection to St. Agnes, but their lives only truly begin to intertwine as the plot unfolds. At least 150 pages pass before we get to see what’s in that letter, which, as you can assume, changes everything.
The women in my book club always have a thoughtful, intellectual, and vibrant discussion of the novels we read, but the way we talked about The Husband’s Secret has probably been the most simultaneously specific and broad to date.
I say “specific” because we got into the nitty gritty of the characters’ thoughts and actions. At length, we discussed our opinions of their lives in the story and even argued over their views of themselves. We also, as always, thoroughly covered the twists and turns of the plot.
And I say “broad” because more than some of the other books we’ve chosen, The Husband’s Secret encouraged us to delve into the themes and discuss what we might do in certain situations. How deep was our ability to forgive? How well could we really know our spouses, our best friends, or anyone? At the hour-and-a-half mark I had to leave early to relieve the babysitter, but I think I could have gone on chatting about this book for far longer. In fact, when I got home, I immediately called my mom, who had recently finished and liked the book as well.
I personally liked how Moriarty avoids cliched characters and allows the three main women and the supporting characters in their lives to make surprising decisions, which also made for a page-turning plot. Cecilia, for example, in less able hands would have been “the typical Stepford wife” figure, but Moriarty shows us different sides of her, including a very self-aware one, as she does for every character in the book.
During our book club meeting, I said that I appreciated The Husband’s Secret more as a whole more than as a page-to-page read. There’s a certain dark, chilling quality to the story and the setting, but I haven’t stopped thinking about the clever way Moriarty put the whole story together and made these three women come across as fully realized people. I highly recommend this one, especially for a book club because it’s a story you’ll want to discuss when you’re done.