Friday, August 19, 2011
The Secret Keeping by Francine Saint Marie
Publisher: Spinsters Ink
The Secret Keeping is not a book for the casual reader. It challenges your attention and requires patience as the story develops, but the wait is worth it.
Dr. Helaine Kristenson, AKA The Love Doctor, feels she is somewhat of a hypocrite. Through her best-selling book and her practice, she helps other people solve problems in their relationships, but she can't solve her own. She is trapped in a loveless long term affair with the internationally famous model Sharon Chambers, who ignores Helaine while she has numerous liaisons around the world, but who Helaine can't seem to get out of her system. When Sharon is home, the sex is abusive and unfulfilling for Helaine and she can't help but agree with friends who tell her she's a fool for not ending the situation.
Lydia Beaumont is an extremely successful investment strategist with a high powered firm on Wall Street. Although she is skilled in the bedroom, she has found her various affairs to be unsatisfying, so she has devoted herself to long hours in the office and focusing herself on her career. Lydia is going to the top quickly. One of her few distractions is to meet with her friends at a bar/restaurant not far from the office and there she becomes intrigued by the woman she sees every time she is there who sits alone at a window table reading books. As her interest grows, Lydia is shocked to realize that, for the first time, she is falling for a woman and she has absolutely no idea what to do about it.
Eventually, Helaine and Lydia are drawn together, in great part due to the helpful machinations of a friendly waiter, and then the trouble starts. Sharon Chambers is not the kind of woman to let a lover walk away from her and she sets out to prove it. The book moves through palimony suits, corporate intrigue and the harassment of a "free press." The question finally is whether the relationship of two women who are basically very private can survive very public exposure and what are they willing to pay to make that survival happen.
The Secret Keeping can be a difficult book to grasp when you first start it. The first third tells the story from Lydia's point of view and is written in a style verging on stream of consciousness. Sometimes scenes aren't understood until you get to the end of them or even until the next scene. When Helaine's story picks up as the second third of the book, the pattern switches to long, fast paced conversations with other characters that require the reader to be paying close attention to who is talking. If you're used to quickly reading through a book, this one will force you to change your habits.
The first few chapters can be very trying, but it's worth the effort. The story is unique and told in an engrossing manner. The reader will suddenly realize at some point that a story that seemed difficult to follow has turned into a fascinating story that can't be put down. You will have to focus on this book right until the last pages to grasp all of its complexities. In a recent book, Jane Vollbrecht suggests that lesbian literature should become more sophisticated and offer depth in addition to the girl-gets-girl formula. The Secret Keeping meets those criteria. The girl story is still there, but it's told in a more elaborate manner than most lesbian novels. You may find it confusing at first, but stick it out until the end. You'll be glad you did.