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The Language of Secrets

November 2, 2010

The Language of Secrets by Dianne Dixon
Genre: Realistic Fiction/Mystery
Age Level: Adult
Published: Doubleday, March 23, 2010
I Chose It Because: I just loved the title! I was also intrigued by the first paragraph of the jacket blurb. A man discovers the grave of a three-year-old child, and the name and birth date is his own? Hmm …
Discussion Points: marital problems; infidelity; parental abandonment; the way our memories can be elusive or misleading


Justin Fisher is a successful young professional with a beautiful wife and baby boy. Yet he is inexplicably detached from his family of origin. He has not seen them in over ten years. Furthermore he has gaping holes in his memories of his life before college. The birth of their son prompts Justin’s wife, Amy, to insist that he reconnect with his parents and sisters. After all Zack deserves to know his family, doesn’t he?

When Justin returns to his family home, he finds it has been sold — his parents have died. This is followed by an even greater shock. A visit to his parents’ graves reveals a tombstone for a little boy who died when he was only three — a tombstone engraved with Justin’s own name and birthdate.

Justin delves into his past, trying to unravel the ugly secrets that led to the little gravestone, his estrangement from his family, and the huge gaps in his memory.

He was letting it in, again and again: the fact that his father was dead. He knew he should be inundated with memories, consumed with sorrow. But there was no flood of memory, no sadness. There was only a sense of dread — a chilling knowledge that the splintered door to some long-buried chamber was quietly being forced open. (p. 8)

As Justin explores his own history, the narrative slips smoothly between the past and present,and shifts among different points of view, including Justin’s boyhood self, his mother, Caroline, and his father, Robert. As the story unfolded, I found it took a great deal of suspension of disbelief to go along for the ride, but I couldn’t put it down. πŸ™‚

The people in this novel reminded me a bit of soap opera characters: elegant, successful, and polished, on the surface, and a big, hot steaming mess underneath. πŸ™‚ I didn’t connect with the characters as much as I would have hoped to; they had a superficial quality. Maybe that was partly intentional. After all this is a story about people whose lives are built on disappointments, compromises, and ugly secrets, not to mention some superficial values. Nevertheless, character development was not this novel’s strength.

The real strength in this novel, for me, was the plotting. There were some rather contrived twists, but Egads, this was a page turner! I read it practically in one sitting. The well-paced mystery, the well crafted nonlinear narrative, and the varied points of view really engaged me. And even though I didn’t love the characters, and I felt the story stretched credibility even for a mystery, it was a heart-wrenching story. I found myself aching for some of the characters, in spite of myself, and reflecting on the themes the book churned up. These include love, motherhood, and the need for security. It also explored revenge, loss of a child, and the cruel, incomprehensible decisions people make. And it reflected the limited choices women had in previous generations and the often horrifying ramifications of those limitations.

I don’t think this is one of those novels I will return to in my mind, again and again, but it was well crafted and a very good read. I suspect it will be quite popular with fiction lovers and book clubs, and I look forward to seeing what Dianne Dixon creates in the future.

More Reviews: S. Krishna’s Books; Bookworm’s Diner; Book Addiction; Cheryl’s Book Nook; Devourer of Books; Everything Distils Into Reading

10 Comments leave one →
  1. November 2, 2010 2:16 am

    Oh…. this book sounds good! I’m going to have to look for it at the library… I love page turners like this.

    RYC – Yes, during times like these “don’t panic” can be a very good motto. Spray paint might be a little extreme though… a sampler might be more subtle. πŸ˜‰ Puberty is such a pivotal point for complicated kids it seems… M settled down considerably at puberty but R, while still sweet and mostly cooperative, seems to having more trouble. The gap between her and “typical” seems to be suddenly growing by leaps and bounds. You’re right… academics are important, but stability has to come first. I hope you find it very soon…

  2. November 2, 2010 3:28 am

    That first paragraph would grab me too. I really like the sound of this storyline and will have to look around and see if it’s available here.

  3. November 2, 2010 7:16 am

    This sounds like a great book. I hadn’t heard of it but it’s going on the TBR straight away. I like a good mystery every now and then.

  4. November 2, 2010 11:20 pm

    Oh … that hook is fantastic! And I’m willing to suspect belief if the rest of it holds my interest. I think I’m going to have to check this one out.

  5. givingreadingachance permalink
    November 3, 2010 3:40 am

    That is definitely a great story, I love page-turners as well. And I have wishlisted this one.

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