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The Art of Keeping of Secrets by Patti Callahan Henry

I finished this book earlier this week.  It's the fourth book by Patti Callahan Henry that I've read.  If you click here, here, and here, you can read the three previous novels that were reviewed on the blog.  I've now exhausted the Henry books available in the local library system.  I may request some of her others from outside the county, but I have a pile of books at home to read (or not read as the case may be) before I do that.  The novel has similar themes to the later novel, Coming Up For Air: relationships, mistaking controlling tendencies for love, keeping secrets from those we love, etc.  There were some parts of this novel that were hard for me to read because I was worried that things would go to hell in a hand-basket before they got better, but they didn't, and I was glad for that.

Annabelle has spent the last two years mourning the death of her husband, Knox, a pilot whose plane went down in flames in the isolated wilderness of Colorado and was never recovered.  She's finally reached a point where she's beginning to come to terms with her loss and her grief and with living a life without Knox.  Then the sheriff drops by with unexpected and life shattering news: Knox's plane has been discovered in the Colorado wilderness and in the burnt out shell of his plane were found the charred remains of two bodies.  Knox died with an identified woman.  The news throws Annabelle and her children off balance causing the fragile parts of their lives to shatter with the weight of the unknown: who was this woman?  Why did Knox lie when he said he was going alone on a hunting trip?  The obvious answers do not reconcile with the Knox that his wife, family and friends knew and loved, who was a man of unerring integrity and compassion, who had a deep sense of justice.

Annabelle is forced to ask difficult questions of herself and their friends, but no one has any clue who this woman might have been, and no one believes Knox would have an affair and lead a double life.  Annabelle's quest for answers leads to an impulsive trip to Newboro, North Carolina, where Knox landed his plane one last time to refuel before flying on to Colorado, and where it makes sense that he would have picked up  this mysterious, nameless female passenger.  Once in Newboro, chance leads Annabelle to Sofie, a twenty year old dolphin researcher.  Sofie and her mother, Liddy, once lived in Marsh Cove where Annabelle and Knox lived, but that was at least a decade ago.  Now Sofie leads a solitary life of secrets under a name different form the one she used in Marsh Cove, and her very safety depends upon the secrets she keeps.  Everyone in Newboro believes Sofie and Liddy came from Colorado, and there are other things, small lies that they told those in Newboro in order to cloak their true identities and previous lives, to prevent the dangerous man they've both been running from for all of Sofie's life from ever finding them.

Annabelle and her son, Jake's, arrival in Newboro searching for answers about the woman who died with Knox threatens the precarious safety Sofie's been hanging onto by her fingernails.  So accustomed to keeping secrets, Sofie refuses to answer Annabelle's and Jake's questions, and she won't tell them why.  This doesn't stop Annabelle from asking questions around town to piece together the puzzle of what her husband was or wasn't doing with Liddy.

There is also Sofie's boyfriend, Bedford, a man twice her age, whom she claims not to love as much as he loves her.  Yet despite this supposed deficit of feeling, Sofie's still desperate for his approval, his protection, and his love.  For all her mother's warnings about trusting no man--and Sofie hasn't--she neglected to educate her daughter on the far more insidious dangers of falling for a subtly controlling man who will isolate her from everyone, twist and hide the truth in order to manipulate her, and make sure she's beholden to him and no one else.  I feel as if I'm the only one who sees Bedford's controlling ways, his overreaction to Jake's attempts to befriend Sofie, and his overstepping of boundaries that he hides so well.  The interactions between Sofie and Bedford were hard to read--because she doesn't seem to see how controlling he is, because no one else says, hey, dude, don't you think you're overreacting a little bit, and because I was afraid the situation between Sofie and Bedford would descend into bodily harm, physical abuse and/or stalking before Sofie is able to extricate herself from the relationship.  Thankfully it doesn't come to this.

The astute reader will intuit early on in Annabelle's arrival in Newboro from the cryptic clues given by Sofie that the reason for the other woman's presence on Knox's plane is not adulterous.  The lies Sofie and Liddy told about their past and the assumption of new names made it obvious to me why the two women were running and why Knox aided and abetted their secrets and their running.  Nevertheless, it was suspenseful to see just how the story would shake out.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie


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