A mother is torn between protecting her son and telling the truth in Carla Buckley's thought-provoking, suspenseful third novel, The Deepest Secret. Eve has spent the last 15 years fighting to keep her son safe from sunlight—he has a rare genetic disorder, XP. But one rainy night, a car accident changes her life forever, and Eve's conscience and her motherly love are put to the test. We asked Buckley a few questions about her new book.
What was the initial inspiration for this book?
When my son was 16 and had just gotten his driver’s license, I had mixed feelings as I watched him drive away that very first time. He’d worked hard and proven himself to be responsible and I was proud as I watched him carefully back the car out of our driveway. But I also felt sad. He wasn’t just driving himself to his guitar lesson. He was taking a critical first step to becoming a man and leaving home forever. I began to wonder what it would be like to mother a child who could never reach this sort of milestone. After all, it wasn’t as though my son’s teen years had been completely uneventful. He didn’t want to be treated like a child anymore but I knew he wasn’t ready for complete freedom. We’d both learned through trial and error where to draw the line and we’d both made mistakes. It occurred to me that this normal, turbulent, and always challenging period of a boy’s growing up would be complicated immeasurably if he had a medical condition.
"I hope my readers recognize themselves in my characters and ask themselves what they would do if faced with the same issues."
Your stories often center on family conflicts and dynamics. What is it about this subject that interests you?
I guess the easy answer is that I came from a dysfunctional family and that I’m still working through the lessons of my childhood, but I’ve come to believe that we all come from dysfunction in one way or another! I think the reason I’m drawn to talk about family dynamics is because it’s the universal language we all speak: We all have families and our roles within them shape us into the people we become. It seems a particularly fraught and vulnerable process. What if you make a mistake—can you ever undo the damage? What if you’re faced with a terrible dilemma—will you make the right choice? Can you forgive yourself if you don’t? I hope my readers recognize themselves in my characters and ask themselves what they would do if faced with the same issues.
Eve’s son, Tyler, has a rare genetic disorder that makes him fatally sensitive to light. What kind of research did you do to write about this?
Xeroderma pigmentosum (XP) is an extraordinarily rare disease passed on by both parents in which a person’s skin and eye cells cannot repair the deadly damage done by ultraviolet radiation. Most parents don’t realize they’re carriers until their child is diagnosed, usually by the time their child is 2 years old. But by then, the damage has already been done. The average life expectancy for someone born with XP is twenty years.
In order to understand the disease itself, I scoured online resources (there are two parent-run organizations, one in the US and the other in the UK that offer general information to caregivers), read numerous medical research papers, and interviewed dermatologists and dentists. Combined, this gave me a basic foundation upon which to build. Then I began to put myself in Eve’s place to imagine what I would do if I had to keep my child safe from sunlight.
While this story hinges on a deep secret and some pretty dramatic events, Eve’s basic dilemma is that she’s trying to shield her son—and to a lesser extent, her daughter—from the dangers of the world. Do you think mothers in particular feel a need to maintain control over their children’s lives?
I think the real challenge parents face today is knowing when to be present and when to step back. I don’t think the world is any more dangerous today than it was a generation ago, but the dangers are different and we’re more aware of them. A parent can become almost paralyzed by too much knowledge. And maybe it is a mother’s role to be constantly vigilant and less willing to take risks with her child’s safety.
I’d love to lock my children in a room until they’re 25, but even if that were possible, it would backfire. Kids are smart—they can fool you into thinking you know what they’re up to. The trick is to give them just enough freedom so they can make a few mistakes and learn a few life lessons that will keep them safe. There’s a lot of trust involved—on both sides.
Eve goes to almost unimaginable lengths to protect her family, yet we find ourselves empathizing with her. Why do you think she is a likable character in spite of her choices and actions?
It’s challenging to write protagonists who make difficult choices. I don’t expect my readers necessarily to agree with Eve’s decisions but I do hope they can understand why she makes them. By showing how much she loves her son and how much he loves her in return, I hope my readers can sympathize with her and ultimately root for her, even when she stumbles.
Without giving too much away, would you consider your book to have a happy ending?
Yes, absolutely. I loved writing The Deepest Secret primarily because Eve and Tyler are hopeful characters who refuse to give up, despite the odds. It’s a story about love in all its guises and in the end, it’s safe to say, love prevails—which is the happiest ending of all.
What are you working on next?
My next novel, The Good Goodbye, is the story of a friendship between two young women after they arrive at a burn unit following a devastating college fire, and that of their families and the mystery which ultimately brought them to that moment.