This week we look at an amazing tale of loss and recovery by yet another new to me Lake Union author. This week, we look at Only Ever Her by Marybeth Whalen.
The book does an excellent job of showcasing rural small town life in the South. A bit interestingly, it is actually based in the same general region as last week’s Featured New Release of the Week, The Last At-Bat of Shoeless Joe by Granville Wyche Burgess, and the dichotomies here are interesting. While last week’s book showcases the South in the final years of Jim Crow, this tale features a more current take on the same area – the South Carolina Upstate near Greenville. The town and tale are fictional, but in this reader’s experience growing up in and around such areas, accurate to the types of things you’ll see there.
And the singular biggest thing featured here is the multilayered and multi-generational secrets, responsibilities, and aspirations. Annie is just looking to leave town and set her own course, after spending a lifetime being known for a tragedy that happened when she was just three years old and having grown up bearing the responsibility of helping her hometown cope with its darkest night. Faye is Annie’s aunt who came in to save Annie – yet harbors secrets of her own. Clary is Faye’s daughter and Annie’s aunt, but just one year older than Annie and thus the two have grown up like sisters – to their enjoyment and chagrin. Clary has secrets that Annie stumbled into and wants Clary to reveal. Kenny is the outsider weirdo that Annie defended in high school, and the two share secrets from both his girlfriend – and the fiancee she is about to marry. Laurel is the high school queen bee who has come back to her hometown in disgrace after giving a lofty graduation speech about her goals of exploring the world.
Narratively, the story is told from each of the perspectives of the characters described above, sometimes shifting to another character in the same scene with a chapter break, but with such grace that one could easily imagine a solid cinematographer having a field day with the visual transition. But the secrets don’t end with just these characters. The Sheriff harbors secrets. The fiancee and best friend harbor secrets. The former elite socialite grandmother harbors secrets. The pastor harbors secrets. Indeed, it seems that the only character in the book that doesn’t harbor secrets is the girlfriend, and she doesn’t even get named until near the end of the tale!
Overall an excellent work and I’m looking forward to more from this author. Very much recommended.
And as always, the Goodreads/ Amazon review:
Small Town Secrets. Big Time Heart. This story set in fictional Ludlow, South Carolina tells a multilayered story of the secrets of various people in a small town affecting each of their lives in dramatic ways. It is a story of love, loss, and moving on, and it captures the rural small town South extremely well. The multiple interweaving perspectives could make for some intriguing cinematography, should Hollywood ever come calling for this tale, and I for one would love to see it on the silver screen and look forward to reading more from this new-to-me author. Very much recommended.