Tuesday, December 9, 2014
Book Review: "A Small Indiscretion" by Jan Ellison
"It's not always wise to assume that just because the surface of the world appears undisturbed, life is where you left it."
At age 19, Annie Black flees her unremarkable, hopeless life in California to seek a job in London. She feels lucky when she finds a job as an assistant to Malcolm Church, a structural engineer working on a bid to build a new light rail station at Canary Wharf. While Malcolm takes good care of her, and makes no secret that he is attracted to her, she spends her evenings drinking herself into oblivion and longing for more, and she thinks she finds it in Patrick Ardghal, a flirtatious photographer with an interesting connection to Malcolm and his wife, Louise.
One turbulent evening in Paris, while Annie is on holiday vacation with Malcolm, Louise, and Patrick, things come to a head, and the next day, Annie flees without a word and heads to Ireland. She meets Jonathan Gunnlaugsson, a fellow American, and the two travel through Europe and Asia, eventually falling in love.
Twenty or so years later, she and Jonathan are married and living a successful life in San Francisco. Annie designs custom lighting fixtures for her own store, and the couple is parents to three childrenRobbie, Polly, and Clara. One day Annie receives a photograph in the mail that reminds her of that tumultuous time in Paris, and it reignites a passion in her she hadn't felt in some time. While on a business trip to London, she rekindles an old acquaintance, which sets off a chain of events she never expected.
Not soon after her return to California, she gets a shocking phone call about Robbie, which shakes their already vulnerable family to the core. As she tries to rally herself and her family together, more secrets are revealed, which surprise both Annie and Jonathan. She desperately tries to reconcile her feelings with trying to preserve the life she has known and taken for granted.
Jan Ellison's A Small Indiscretion shifts between the present day and Annie's life in London 20 or so years earlier. It's the story of being torn between seeking what you think you want and taking what you really want for granted. It's a revealing look at the ups and downs of marriage and building a life together, and just how destructive secrets can be, especially secrets you think you've hidden well.
This is a well-written and compelling book with a few twists and turns along the way. I liked it, but a few things frustrated me. I felt as if Ellison relied too much on foreshadowing as a narrative device, alluding obliquely to things that would happen later. Doing this a few times was fine, but the more she did it, the more I felt she undercut her own story. I also felt that on the whole, Annie was a fairly unsympathetic character, so it wasn't always easy to have empathy for the situations she found herself in.
While it's not as good as Charles Dubow's fantastic Indiscretion, which was one of my favorite books of 2013, on the whole, this is an interesting, well-told story. It definitely will make you think about relationships.