The Husband's Secret

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*there are plenty of spoilers in this review*

I've had this book on my shelf for a while. We've read another book by this author, "What Alice Forgot". I've actually forgotten what Alice forgot but I remember liking the book. This book is very likable too. It takes a bit of perseverance in the beginning because the first three chapters are all lengthy looks into the lives of three different characters and it was hard for me to see how they fit together. It seemed like the only thing they had in common was they all watched The Biggest Loser. Soon you see how they are all connected to a St. Angela's school community and eventually you see how they are even more intertwined than that.

This novel throws a lot of balls in the air and blends them seamlessly into one smooth orbit. It does seem like there are a couple of moons in the mix that don't really need to be in the galaxy - like the early idea that Esther "was possibly a touch autistic, or at least sitting somewhere on the autism spectrum." (ePg. 11, loc. 215) Tess also wondered about Liam. But nothing ever comes of these wonderings - perhaps it is just meant to make them relatable as I think many parents wonder about similar things. I wondered why Tess's father even made an appearance on the pages. I don't think he added anything to the story other than the fact that he was divorced from her mom and not dead - if he had been dead than she wouldn't have had strong feelings about divorce. But he could've been divorced and absent just as well. Another thing I wondered about was why Rachel, who got out of bed when she couldn't sleep, set up the ironing board and then started watching videos. (ePg. 177, loc. 1986) She never ironed anything.

Speaking of similar things, I always think it's interesting how many times a thread from last month's book appears in this month's selection too. Britt-Marie liked to keep lists and so does Cecilia (ePg. 13, loc. 238). Additionally, neither book is set in the U.S.

There is a lot of foreshadowing in this book but it is not super obvious until you read it a second time. Like when Cecilia reflects that she's never been "tested". (ePg. 59, loc. 737) Meaning a test of faith, not a test for COVID 19. In a flashback chapter, an omniscient voice says, "It was a shame that Janie's life was going to end in just over eight hours..." (ePg. 76, loc. 919) - made me think she died by suicide (she didn't). "John-Paul has once tried to commit suicide." (ePg. 123, loc. 1429) This little tidbit is not foreshadowing but is more important than you might realize at the time. After getting a ride home from Cecilia, Rachel admits she was more drunk than she realized and comments, "I actually thought about driving myself home. Imagine if I'd killed someone." (ePg. 144, loc. 1646) On the video Janie laughed but Connor didn't see her face to really understand the laugh (ePg. 182, loc. 2043), similar to when she died the killer didn't see her face when she laughed. There are a lot of comments about how beautiful Polly is - she is a first grader, after so many comments it starts to feel creepy and inappropriate. Of course, in the end we realize why the point had to be made. At the end of Ch. 48, in case we missed the clues, we are told "[Rachel] was just so damned sad." (ePg. 360, loc. 3815) It doesn't take much to connect the dots and see that Rachel is depressed and may take desperate action.

There was a brief moment in Ch. 9 when I worried I might have chosen a book about a child molester. I mean, in life I don't approve of any crime but child molesting is much more stomach turning than some other crimes. No worries though - false alarm.

On a scale of 1 - 5 (5 being a lot of examples/instances):

Sex: 4

Religion: 4

Gruesome: 3

Suspense: 2

Morality: 3

Traditional: 4

Sex - MANY references but all in a normal, every day part of life framework. Ch. 1, ePg. 16, loc. 272 - "as if she'd caught him [taking care of business] in the shower". Cookies caused a widow to think of sex. (ePg. 70, loc. 853) Ch. 7 - LOTS of references. Ch. 14 - Rachel remembers how even after her daughter died, she and her husband kept having sex, something that felt a little bit shameful to her. (ePg. 162, loc. 1837 and ePg. 163, loc. 1843) Ch 15 beginning - married couple, including the distractions of a mother who always has one ear out for the kids. (ePg. 164, loc. 1656) Tess remembers some of her first sexual escapades. (ePg. 188, loc. 2104) An incident of "that crazy, tear-each-other's-clothes-off, banging-into-walls thing that you never do once you're in a long-term relationship". (ePg. 263, loc. 2850) Ch. 37, lady's thoughts dwell on sex. Ch. 40 - thoughts with slightly crude vocabulary. (ePg. 309, loc. 3295) A mom is daydreaming about her tryst with her lover instead of focusing on her son. (ePg. 346, loc. 3677)

Religion - There are almost as many religious references as their are sexual references. A priest calls a parishioner to encourage her to attend a funeral for a nun. (Ch.1 ) Discussion by non-practicing Catholics about getting their child into a Catholic school with the justification that "He's baptized in the Catholic Church." (ePg. 41, loc. 547) Ch. 3 - Rachel supposes she is not a good Catholic because she did not have more children due to her vanity. (ePg. 51, loc. 648) Ch. 5 - details of first communion pictures and reflection that one of the girls is "lapsed" and the other is an atheist. (ePg. 68, loc. 828) Birth control taken "as reverently as a Communion wafer". (ePg. 75, loc. 905) - the characters are Catholic therefore contraception (and pre-marital sex) would be frowned upon, not to mention the irreverence of treating it like a Communion wafer. " if any form of premarital sex would be okay, as if her father wouldn't fall to his knees and pray a thousand novenas at the thought of someone touching his pristine little girl." (ePg. 76, loc. 908) A woman wonders about the sexual desires of priests. (ePg. 81, loc. 968) Cecilia wasn't sure she was "a fan of God anymore. he seemed to have dropped the ball a long time ago. ... If God had a supervisor, she would have sent off one of her famous letters of complaint a long time ago..." saying she was no longer a customer. (ePg. 82, loc. 972) Mom (of 3 daughters who attend Catholic school and who participates in the school and community) thinks she is too busy to contemplate whether God exists. (ePg. 82, loc. 978) Rachel felt she committed small sins of vanity and self-indulgence as well as betraying her husband when she enjoyed another man looking at her legs. (ePg. 161, loc. 1823) A married couple take the Lord's name in vain while having sex (Ch. 15). "Sex, especially for a good Catholic girl like Tess, had been so..." (ePg. 188, loc. 2104) Cecilia wonders who is the proper patron saint for a certain situation. (ePg. 197, loc. 2192) "Janie's dad was one of those crazy Catholic dads and he said she couldn't even have a boyfriend until she was eighteen." (ePg. 206, loc. 2766) A wife is surprised her husband thinks of Hell s a physical place. (ePg. 211, loc. 2326) Cecilia considers herself Catholic but not religious. (ePg. 212, loc. 2329) A woman doubts God's plan: Surely one day some respectable authority figure would take charge and put it right. Maybe God was the reasonable, respectable figure she'd always assumed was going to step in. Could she really have been that deluded? Even subconsciously? God didn't care. God couldn't care less. God gave Connor Whitby free will, and Connor used that free will to strangle Janie. (ePg. 251, loc. 2735) A woman cheats on her Lenten sacrifice and is caught by her daughter. (ePg. 262, loc. 2829) A lover makes the sign of the cross over his lover's head and pretends to absolve her. They both admit they haven't been to confession lately and don't really know the procedure. (ePg. 277, loc. 2987) Seems a bit irreverent.

Gruesome - re-counting of two different children getting run over

Suspense - when Cecilia finally read the letter we only got bits and pieces from her as she initially skimmed it at the end of Ch. 15 (ePg. 169, loc. 1905) Then the next chapter is about Tess so we were left wondering what the letter really said.

Morality - one couple has extramarital affairs (one emotional, one physical) Even married mothers felt Mr. Whitby's sex appeal. (ePg. 61, loc. 761) Rachel "had something odd going on at the moment" (ePg. 77, loc. 925) - later revealed as seven minutes of flirtation but initially sounded like an affair. Cecilia notices a woman's undyed roots and then recognizes that it is "uncharitable of [her] to notice". (ePg. 83, loc. 993) Tess felt a moment of remorse that she was at a school event thinking of sex with her lover. (ePg. 309, loc. 3295)

Traditional - a mother cautioned her daughter to maintain her virginity (ePg. 76, loc. 908) Parents divorced when a child was 10, possibly because the mother had an affair. (ePg. 259, loc. 2818) A married woman having an affair admits she's on the pill and declines the use of a condom. (ePg. 264, loc. 2853) She thought she'd feel ashamed but she didn't. (ePg. 264, loc. 2854) Tess tries to distract herself from thinking about her husband by thinking about sex with another man. (ePg. 308, loc. 3285) Rachel thinks she should've told her daughter to have sex but stay safe - instead now she thinks she died because she wouldn't have sex with a boy. (ePg. 338, loc. 3585)

It seemed a little far-fetched to me that after their daughter died Rachel and Ed both had a hard time falling asleep and had to sleep with all the lights on "to trick themselves and pretend that they weren't going to sleep". (ePg. 73, loc. 884) I could understand one of them being comforted by the lights but not both - in my opinion they would both find a different way to cope.

I think Moriarty has a great description of a teenage boy: Connor had the body of a man and the face of a boy. Rachel could see a smattering of pimples across his forehead. He had that starved, frightened, sullen look you saw on so many teenage boys. It was s if they needed to both punch a wall and be cuddled. The Connor of thirty years ago didn't inhabit his body in the comfortable way he did now. He didn't know what to do with his limbs. (ePg. 181, loc. 2025)

There are some odd age choices in this story. Connor is 45. (ePg. 188, loc. 2099) He is 10 years older than Tess. So when they dated he was 29 and she was 19. It's not a crime but it seems like a big age gap - especially at those times in life. Janie and John-Paul had been in the same grade. Janie was 4 years ahead of Cecilia. Cecilia was a couple years ahead of Tess. So that might make Connor and Janie about four years apart but it sounds like they were much closer.

Moriarty slowly plants a lot of details with fine craftsmanship so that when you get to the end you realize why little details were important. Like telling us that Rachel often went into Janie's room and put a blanket over her shoulders because Janie was always cold. In the Epilogue we learn why. Yet, there were other details that just got glossed over. For example, in Ch. 23 she mentions the school uniforms, which led me to wonder if Liam had gotten a uniform so quickly and why that wasn't part of the narrative. And when she wondered if she should just home school him and contemplated that she could handle all the subjects except Math - was she really saying that she could not handle even First Grade math because Liam is only 6! I also wondered why they went to the park so early, before 8 a.m. (ePg. 355, loc. 3759)

More than halfway through the book, suddenly, we start hearing a voice other than the present-day narrator that we've become used to. It was an odd shift to the suppositions regarding Janie, "If only she could have e-mailed or texted him, that would have solved everything, but mobile phones and the internet were still in the future." (ePg. 284, loc. 3050) Janie's story was in the past compared to the other three story lines (Cecilia, Tess, Rachel) but to be in the past and use the "if only" looking into the future was just weird. Especially when it didn't start until so far into the book. It happened a few more times and then the entire Epilogue was a very similar style.

For me the Epilogue ruined the book. It goes against the ideas of religion that God has a plan. The entire Epilogue is like an alternative novel, if Janie hadn't gone to Connor's and had gone to the doctor they would have found out this...and if Polly hadn't...she would've played tennis. The missing information (like Janie's diagnosis) was tolerable but the other scenarios that would've happened (supposedly) if different choices had been made were just unnecessary.

Discussion Questions

Early in the novel Cecilia laments giving up wine for Lent. (ePg. 4, loc. 133)

What is the hardest thing you've ever given up for Lent?

Cecilia had seen a child dressed as Spider Man get hit by a car. (ePg. 8, loc. 180)

Have you ever seen an unforgettable tragedy?

"Cecilia would rather hammer nails into her forehead than go fishing." (ePg. 9, loc. 198)

How do you feel about fishing?

Esther had a habit of getting extremely engrossed in a particular subject .

"So long, Titanic; hello, Berlin Wall, [Cecilia] thought." (ePg. 10, loc. 204)

What have been your kids' most annoying phases?

Cecilia has a (supposed) piece of the Berlin Wall. (ePg. 11, loc. 217)

What is your strangest souvenir?

John-Paul wrote a letter to be opened after he died. Have you ever written such a letter?

What did you think was in the letter? Cecilia had a lot of hypotheses:

1) an affair (ePg. 85, loc. 1010) - she reasoned he would not have time, except maybe when he traveled...

2) a secret family (ePg. 86, loc. 1027)

3) he was gay (ePg. 86, loc. 1030)

4) he molested a child (epg. 117, loc. 1362)

Tess was a child of divorce and did not want to subject Liam to that experience. If your parents are divorced, how did that affect your commitment to staying married? Then she realized it was silly to try and save the marriage for Liam's sake. Tess even planned to sound a certain way and use a "cheerful, cold voice" like her mom had and refer to Will as "your dad" instead of "Daddy" when talking to Liam. (ePg. 306, loc. 3267)

In your experience, is it wise or even possible to stay together for the sake of the children?

Tess thought "Will and Felicity needed to have a proper affair" (ePg. 40, loc. 535) and just get it out of their system. She told Felicity, "Have your revolting little affair and then give my husband back." (ePg. 153, loc. 1733) Was that a wise course of action?

Rachel put a lot of thought into being "the perfect mother-in-law; caring but not cloying, interested but not nosy." (ePg. 45, loc. 584) Can there be a good m-i-l? What kind are you? Why did Rachel think it was okay for someone else to go hunt down macarons for her instead of telling her daughter-in-law how much she liked them. (ePg. 229, loc. 2509) Rachel thought the macarons were so good - they reminded her of sex. What have you ever eaten that was so delicious? Neither woman let the other woman help in their personal kitchen. Rachel realized when you don't "let a woman help, it was a way of keeping her at a distance, of letting her know that she wasn't family, of saying I don't like you enough to let you into my kitchen. (ePg. 358, loc. 3798)

Do you let your family or friends help in your kitchen?

Rachel designated happenings as "before April 6, 1984, after April 6, 1984". (ePg. 48, loc. 615)

What did you think had happened on that date?

Should the book be called "The Husbands' Secrets" since more than one husband had a secret?

Lucy often spoke on behalf of Tess. (ePg. 90, loc. 1058) Do you have this habit for someone?

Or does someone speak for you?

Tess thought, "She would tell Will about it later. He'd laugh. No, she wouldn't tell Will about it later.

Her brain couldn't seem to catch up with the news." (ePg. 94, loc. 1104)

Have you ever experienced a delay in recognizing a situation? How did you get through it?

Why was it important that Tess's dad made appearances in the story via a phone call (ePg. 111, loc. 1295) and giving her a compass (ePg. 316, loc. 3357)? What did the compass symbolize? How did it change Tess? What did he add to the story? Could the story have been told without him? While she was growing up Tess's mom often told people Tess was shy and that she got it from her father. She felt like her mom was shaming people who don't like to socialize and supposed that was why she hid her social anxiety. (ePg. 317, loc. 3366) What does Tess's social anxiety contribute to the story? Why did it matter? Did you believe she had social anxiety?

Cecilia decided to share a memory of Janie with Rachel because she'd read an article about how it helps since the grieving parent can form new memories. (ePg. 152, loc. 1625)

Would you be brave enough? Do you agree it would help?

Ed had told Janie she couldn't have a serious boyfriend and both he and Rachel thought she obeyed their wishes. (ePg. 155, loc. 1755) Have you ever been fooled by your kids? Did you ever fool your parents?

Rachel was going to take Janie to the doctor just to prove their was nothing wrong with her. (ePg. 158, loc. 1788) Had they gone, per the Epilogue, they would have realized their was something and she might not have died. Have you ever had any close health calls for yourself or your kids?

Rachel pointed out that everything Tess did, Felicity did. (ePg. 171, loc. 1923)

Have you ever known anybody like this?

After you learned what was in the letter, how did you feel towards John-Paul? What did you think Cecilia should have done? Was it more insensitive for John-Paul to leave it for Cecilia to deal with after he died or to not tell anyone at all? (ePg. 193, loc. 2149) John-Paul's strategy was to serve his community and give up anything that gave him pleasure. (ePg. 211, loc, 2319) Was that a good strategy? Cecilia was surprised that he thought he would go to Hell when he died as if it were an actual place. (ePg. 211, loc. 2326) She wondered if one act as a teenager should erase twenty years of living a good, moral life. (ePg. 214, loc. 2357) Should it?

In Ch. 23 Cecilia was so discombobulated that she wore two very different shoes. (ePg. 220, loc. 2413).

Have you ever worn two different shoes?

Tess felt like "being a mother is all about making what seemed like thousands of tiny decisions." (ePg. 239, loc. 2611) Is this motherhood to you?

In Ch. 28 sesame oil becomes a focal point. Cecilia could smell it when it she was crying in the pantry, even though she always wipes off the bottle. (ePg. 244, loc. 2659) She threw the bottle away (ePg. 245, loc. 2664) but her mother-in-law could smell it when she came in the house. (ePg. 245, loc. 2673) She even likens the smell of the sesame oil to the evil that is permeating her house. (ePg. 249, loc. 2714) Esther mentions it at dinner time (ePg. 262, loc. 2831) and later Cecilia still smells it when she is watching YouTube with Esther. (ePg. 267, loc. 2885) Even the next day at the Easter Hat parade Cecilia smells it on her fingers and thinks of it as "the scent of her life." (ePg. 291, loc. 3120) Why so much focus on sesame oil? Is there some hidden meaning or just that it's invisible and invasive just as the secret they are keeping is.

When Cecilia mentions to her mother-in-law that she invited Rachel Crowley to Polly's birthday party, Virginia gets preachy and insinuates that Cecilia should do whatever is necessary to protect her family, just like Virginia has done. (ePg. 247) Why now? How does Virginia know now is the time to subtly deliver this message? Virginia comes over every week - have the Crowley's never come up before?

There is an insinuation that Lucy cheated on her husband. (ePg. 259, loc. 2818)

Did she? How does her past affect the advice she gives Tess?

Cecilia wanted to "weigh up the greater good", recognizing that confessing would not bring the victim back to life and would hurt many members of her family. (ePg. 295, loc. 3168) She also recognized that if a young man murdered her daughter, no matter how much good he did later in life, she would want him to pay with his life. (ePg. 296, loc. 3178) Which side do you favor for the characters in the novel? What if it were your husband? Your child?

Cecilia made a point to specially deliver Rachel's Tupperware order earlier than promised and recognized that she was doing it because "she couldn't bear the thought of anyone hating her." (ePg. 318, loc. 3379)

How far have you gone so people won't hate you?

John-Paul wanted to make the situation easier for Cecilia by allowing her to make the decision about confessing or not. Cecilia felt like that was putting too much responsibility on her. (ePg. 328, lo. 3483) Do you feel John-Paul's offer was helpful or too much responsibility?

Janie had a bad habit of laughing when she was nervous - even if nothing was funny. (ePg. 335, loc. 3555)

Do you have any bad habits that are inappropriate or could get you misunderstood or in trouble?

Ed didn't see the point in going to the park, saying it was too late and Janie wasn't there. (ePg. 339, loc. 3588) Rachel felt she owed it to Janie to go and honor the last moments of her life.

Do you agree more with Ed or Rachel?

Will and Liam had an unusual Easter tradition of head-butting a chocolate bunny. (ePg. 347, loc. 3686)

Does your family have any odd traditions?

Lucy felt like Will and Tess' problems could be solved if they'd just lay their egos aside. (ePg. 351, loc. 3732)

How often are egos the problem in a strained marriage?

Rachel and Rob discussed their dreams of Janie. (ePg. 355, lo. 3768)

Do you dream of your loved ones who have passed on?

How angry did it make you to find out that Will and Felicity held hands on the plane. (ePg. 368, loc. 3891)

When John-Paul asked Cecilia if she was in love with Mr. Whitby too, Esther said moms can't be in love because they are too old. (ePg. 388, loc. 4113) Not to mention she's married and should be in love with her husband. So love - no, but crush or admiration - maybe? Who are your secret crushes?

Rachel admired how John-Paul was not afraid to show his love for his daughters. She regretted that Ed and Janie didn't have that type of relationship because they worried what others would think. (ePg. 406, loc. 4296) What have you wasted time worrying about with your kids?

At the end of Ch. 53, Rachel tells Cecilia and John-Paul to go tend to Polly.

She says, "I've already..." but never finishes her thought. What do you think she was going to say?

Will started to feel middle-aged when he felt lots of aches and pains and saw his bald spot. (ePg. 419, loc. 4434) What were the signs that led you to realize you were in middle-age?

Tess wondered what if Will and Felicity were really meant to be together and she and Connor. (ePg. 423, loc. 4485) Were they? Then she wondered if anything was ever "meant to be" and thought maybe we were meant to just do our best in the moment and be flexible. (ePg. 423, loc. 4486) What do you believe? Tess realized that the more you knew someone, the less you focused on them because they were no longer interesting and there was nothing to wonder about them. (ePg. 433, loc. 4583) How does a married couple insulate against this? Tess felt like it was embarrassing to reveal everything to your spouse - your silly little fears alongside the normal stuff of life. Do you think it is embarrassing to reveal your idiosyncrasies to a spouse or a new relationship?

Cecilia did not think Rachel would ever turn in John-Paul. (ePg. 427, loc. 4526) Do you think Rachel will? Would you? Would your spouse? Rachel thought, "If Ed were still alive, the trigger would have been pulled already." (ePg. 428, loc. 4537) She wondered if she turned in John-Paul, would the Fitzpatricks turn her in for attempted murder? (ePg. 429, loc. 4539)

Cecilia knew she would try to put the blame on someone else. She felt that her decisions led to Polly's accident. (ePg. 445, loc. 4700) Do you think Cecilia shares any of the blame?

I really liked this question from the Reader's Guide: What determines how guilty one feels - is it the situation, or is it determined by an individual's character? (ePg. 447, loc. 4782)

Theme Ideas

Cecilia is a Tupperware consultant. Consider combining your book club meeting with a Tupperware party.

Serve macarons like Lauren gave Rachel. (ePg. 69, loc. 845) Or serve Better Than Sex cake since Rachel thought the macarons were that good. Be careful not to serve macaroons - Rachel made a point to distinguish between the two when she offered a macaron to Cecilia. (ePg. 320, loc. 3400)

Decorate like the Pirate party that Polly never had. Decorate for Easter since this is the time frame of the story. Include "a charming little basket filled with a variety of delicious and expensive-looking eggs" (ePg. 311, loc. 3307) like Trudy gave Rachel.

Serve chocolate raisins because Tess and her mom used to eat them after school (ePg. 126, loc. 1457).

Serve chocolate brownies like Mary brought to Lucy and Tess. (ePg. 128, loc. 1482)

Serve sausage rolls like Marla served at the Tupperware party. (ePg. 135, loc. 1553)

Use Tupperware to serve the food.

Burn a "chunky, vanilla-scented candle" like the one Rachel had in her bathroom. (ePg. 162, loc. 1836)

Serve "cheese and pickle sandwiches with heaps of butter" like Rachel used to make for Janie. (ePg. 226, loc. 2480)

Serve a "pavlova" like Rachel was going to bring for Easter. (ePg. 227, loc. 2494)

Serve tea and chocolate "biscuits" like Tess had at Cecilia's when she took her home. (ePg. 235, loc. 2575)

Watch a YouTube video of the Berlin Wall coming down in 1989. (ePg. 267, loc. 2879) Especially one that shows David Hasselhoff singing? (ePg. 268, loc. 2887)

Serve Belgian chocolate balls like the mom's passed around at the Easter hat parade. (ePg. 288, loc. 3088)

Or serve chocolate eggs since Tess kept munching on Liam's. (ePg. 411, loc. 4351)

Serve hot cross buns that were mentioned by several characters, several times. "Hot cross buns are meant to be served dripping with butter." (ePg. 346, loc. 3670)