cover image Secrecy


Belva Plain. Delacorte Press, $24.95 (352pp) ISBN 978-0-385-31686-6

The characters in this labyrinthine 14th novel from perennial bestseller Plain (Promises) live undercover lives, each hiding a secret from the others. At the center of this web of reticence, which stretches from the mid-1980s to the present, stands Charlotte Dawes. The product of a doomed marriage between flighty Italian-born Elena and decent New England textile heir Bill, teenaged Charlotte endures first her parents' separation, then rape at the hands of a stepcousin, Ted. The evil act is even more destructive because Ted, the one villain in a noble cast, is the son of Charlotte's Aunt Claudia, a widow newly married to her father's brother, and a surrogate mother to Charlotte. Claudia has her own secret, linking the death of her first husband in Chicago and the troubles besetting the Dawes brothers at their failing mill. Although Charlotte becomes a promising architect, she remains traumatized, and it's only when she meets Roger Heywood, a builder, that she can accept physical love. The couple must survive the revelation of another shocking secret, and even a threat from Mother Nature, before their rosy future looms. Plain handles her characters' complex troubles (emotional and financial) with sympathy--though sometimes with awkward shifts in point of view. She offers us one epiphany after another as the veil of secrecy is gradually lifted, and she allows Charlotte's story an affectingly muted denouement. Literary Guild main selection; author tour. (July)