I enjoy browsing the fiction stacks at the library, looking for something new to read, perhaps by an author I’ve never tried before, or one I haven’t thought about in a long time. A month ago I was doing this, when I saw Barbara Delinsky‘s name on a row of books and remembered that one of my friends had mentioned a few years back that my writing reminded her of Delinsky’s, so I grabbed the closest one, Suddenly.
This is a quiet novel, even though it starts out with a bit of a bang. The police find pediatrician Dr. Mara O’Neill’s body and phone to inform and question her friend Dr. Paige Pfeiffer, one of the three pediatricians Mara worked with. Although the investigators are not certain, it looks as if Dr. O’Neill committed suicide. Paige, the main character, is taken by surprise. She had no idea her friend was unhappy. She thought that Mara was happily waiting to finalize the adoption of a baby from India.
Initially, I thought this would be a detective story which finally determined that Dr. O’Neill was murdered. It didn’t go in that direction at all. Instead, it was a slow passage into the lives of the three physicians who shared the practice with her, and the transformations they go through in response to her suicide, for which they all blame themselves. As Paige finds herself taking care of the Indian baby girl (who arrives the day of Mara’s funeral) and cleans out Mara’s house, she discovers letters that Mara wrote a mystery friend about her life and the depression she hid from Paige. Paige and Angela, one of the other pediatricians in Mara’s clinic, realize that they didn’t pay enough attention to Mara, or to the others they love. As they strive to do a better job of communicating, their lives change for the better in ways they never expected.
Peter, the other physician, regrets that he and Mara never divulged their romance to anyone, and never really acknowledged that their affair was more than a fling. He feels doubly responsible for his lover’s suicide. This changes him in unexpected ways as well.
I loved this novel. The divergent stories of the three pediatricians could have felt disconnected, and arbitrarily thrown together, and yet they didn’t, not only because Mara’s death ties them together, or because they share a commonality of place, but because the theme of the book links them. They all learn to open their hearts more and to communicate better as they process what happened.
This is not a fast read. It took me several days to finish it. As I said above, it’s quiet. Yet I never found it boring. If I can write half as well as this, I will be very proud of myself. The sentences flow. Nothing feels false. It all rings of truth: of deep truths that we all need to learn if we want to be better human beings. The story pace rises and falls without ever feeling like too much or too little. There’s romance, but it’s gentle and doesn’t take over the plot. I’ll be reading more novels by Barbara Delinsky, a psychologist who clearly knows the human heart.