How well can we know the people who we think are the closest to us? And how well can they know us? In The Last Secret, Mary McGarry Morris explores these questions with the tale of Nora Hammond, a New England wife, mother, career woman and philanthropist whose life appears enviable. But Nora exemplifies the cliché about looks being deceiving: behind her flawless facade she is hiding a violent incident from her youth. And at the same time that she is suddenly forced to face that past, she is coping with the knowledge that her marriage is not what she thought it was.
Morris, whose previous novels include the National Book Award finalist Vanished and the Oprah’s Book Club selection Songs in Ordinary Time, excels at delving into the interior lives of her characters. Nora’s inner dialogue is searingly human and relatable. And the author just as easily slips into the demented mind of Eddie Hawkins, a delusional murderer—and the only one who knows of Nora’s past sins.â€©The timing of Eddie’s re-emergence into Nora’s life after more than two decades, right on the heels of her husband’s confession of a four-year affair with one of their closest friends, brings to mind yet another cliché: when it rains, it pours. And the rain is certainly pouring in Nora’s life as she faces her shattered marriage and her difficult past, along with two troubled teenage children whose burdens are even heavier than she knows.
The Last Secret switches back and forth between Nora’s and Eddie’s points of view; Eddie’s passages are some of the more riveting. The reader may occasionally feel the urge to reach into the book’s pages and shake Nora—her cluelessness about one particular revelation made late in the book is hard to fathom, especially since it’s one secret that should be apparent to the reader very early on. Not that Nora fails to intrigue. In the book’s graphically violent climax, the similarity between her and Eddie is at once horrific and, disturbingly, logical. Morris refreshingly avoids a neat, easy conclusion; some things, after all, can’t be fixed.
Rebecca Krasney Stropoli writes from Brooklyn, New York.