Her beginning confession of her greatest “sin,” being drunk in front of her child, told me that we were about to commence a journey that could only get more painful, but would also yield the unique wisdom that comes from coping with something horrendous, and yet living to tell about it.
We can see that being an alcoholic is difficult and challenging enough, but being an alcoholic mother can often result in the whispers, condemnation, and exclusion of other mothers. Almost as if the woman suffers from leprosy, or some other contemptible disease. Perhaps such a mother is at the wrong end of that continuum society often places women along—from Madonna to Whore—and there is no coming back from such a label.
Or is there? Perhaps in telling the story, other women who experience the same pain and the same journey will not feel quite so alone.
The author brings us Cadence’s story from her first-person point of view, which allows the reader to truly experience the journey along with the narrator. It begins as a love story, when Cadence and her husband Martin meet: it leads us to the birth of Charlie, along with those early difficulties in parenting. And we see Martin, as he turns almost totally toward his career and away from Charlie and Cadence. Until finally the marriage falls apart.
It is in the second year after the divorce that Cadence turns more and more to the bottle to help her cope. A struggling freelance writer, she has to manage parenting and writing at home, with all the distractions inherent in those roles.
As I read about how Cadence “bottoms out,” with Martin taking her child away and suing for custody; and then as I watch her struggle to address her disease and begin recovery, even as she faces the outcome of the courts deciding whether or not she will be the primary custodial parent, I could not help but rapidly turn those pages. I immediately connected with Cadence, and felt an almost appalling enmity for Martin and his judgmental mother Alice. I knew I was “taking sides,” but sometimes that happens in stories that really grab me.
Waiting for the final outcome would be excruciatingly painful. I knew it. But I kept going. I loved this excerpt toward the end of Best Kept Secret: A Novel, when Cadence “does battle” with an array of unopened wine bottles, trying to decide her next step:
“When the wine is gone and my tears are finally spent, I look through the kitchen window into my backyard. The sky is the royal hazy blue of impending day. The storm clouds have passed, leaving a faint netting of stars to adorn the sky. I swallow to calm the nerves that jiggle in my throat. I will find a way to get on with things. I’ll gather up my black, fluttering scraps of guilt and resentment and pain and somehow knit them together into a way to survive. And though I’m afraid, though shame claws at the gates of my mind, I walk over to the table and I reach for the phone.”
Moments like these throughout this story had me clutching my throat with empathy, while other lines brought laughter, joy, and even a gasp of recognition. A powerful and emotional read, I highly recommend it to anyone who has ever struggled with anything challenging. And survived.
I won this book from Great Thoughts.