I just finished reading Donna M. Zadunajsky’s novel, Family Secrets, selected from the Book Club Reading List.
Alexis has spent months coping with the shocking suicide of her husband, Jay. A long-term workaholic, her primary coping strategy is to throw herself into her work at NASA. Eventually, her ambition pays off: Alexis learns that she has been selected for a place on a shuttle launch team. After nearly a year of grieving, the news feels like a lifeline.
Her high hopes come crashing down fairly quickly, however; Alexis is diagnosed with breast cancer almost immediately after she learns about the launch.
Soon, the stunned widow’s life shifts completely. As her health declines, she becomes increasingly introspective, and desperate to repair her relationship with her estranged teenage son, Colton.
But due to her frequent absences from home, and her undemonstrative nature, Colton has spent a lifetime nurturing a deep resentment toward his mother. Spurred on by her failing health, Alexis continues to fight for her son and, frightened by the thought of losing another parent, Colton throws himself into his ongoing investigation of his father’s death.
I liked the drama/mystery blend
The family is dealing with the loss of a family member – Jay’s suicide – which informs on a lot of their actions and interactions. It damages Colton and Alexis’ already strained relationship quite heavily, which further complicates their approach to her illness. While Alexis and Colton work to repair their relationship, Colton secretly investigates his father’s death, and ends up making some startling discoveries.
Little credit given to the reader
The novel read more like a book for a younger audience, though the content was definitely meant for adults. The author spelled everything out far too clearly, often in circles (see my next point).
I can’t count how many times I read a passage or line that went something like this:
“She knew she had to make up for the past and that it wouldn’t happen overnight, but if he were trying to change, then so could she. She had to change the person she once was and be the mother Colton needed in his life before it was too late.”
I didn’t have a problem with Alexis’ unlikeability and selfishness; I’m all for a flawed character. But her lack of self-awareness was not plausible. Based on her thought process and actions, I couldn’t for a moment believe that she somehow managed to develop a career – let alone with NASA – a family, and a marriage.
Based on the history of their relationship, the offense she takes to her son’s standoffish behaviour is somewhat baffling. It was hard to care for these characters, because they didn’t really make sense to me.
This book caught my eye because I like the whole “dark family secret” dynamic; the blend of intrigue and drama – and character development, usually – typically captures and holds my interest. Unfortunately, I couldn’t shake the feeling that this book could have used substantial editing. The premise was interesting, and there was definite potential for significant emotional depth. But the writing got in the way, and it was hard for me to finish reading it.