A quiet but compelling novel

computer in cabinI 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.

Cover of "Suddenly"

Cover of Suddenly

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.

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  1. #1 by Eden on January 24, 2013 - 4:51 pm

    What a lovely review… I’m always looking for books that reach deeply into the human soul and fill it, warmly, gently and to a comfortable completeness. This sounds like it will fill that niche well. I’m sorry to hear that the same is not as true of the second book by Delinsky you read, but it’s understandable. We’re all at different stages and we need to express different things at different points in our lives.

    • #2 by annstanleywriting on January 24, 2013 - 11:01 pm

      Thanks, Eden. I am glad that you enjoyed the review. I’m a lover of slower works, which really delve into the different shades of humanity, although that doesn’t mean I never read ones that I can’t put down.

      • #3 by Eden on January 25, 2013 - 8:20 am

        I think we sometimes need a few of each type of book to balance ourselves, even if we prefer one style or the other. We usually notice after we’ve finished a good book from the style we’re not used to, noticing how refreshed we feel.

        Thank you for sharing, Ann. I appreciate it.

  2. #4 by KM Huber on January 10, 2013 - 6:19 am

    Enjoyed the review, Ann, and I, too, will be checking out Barbara Delinsky. As I have mentioned before, you have a real facility for reviews, and I always enjoy reading them.

    Karen

    • #5 by annstanleywriting on January 10, 2013 - 11:55 am

      Let me know what you think of her writing. I was so impressed with Suddenly that I instantly read The Secret Between Us, but I didn’t like it quite as much. Perhaps that is because I don’t have children, but I think it’s more because the nice Police officers seemed a little too friendly to be believable and the romance also seemed a little too far-fetched. It was okay, it just didn’t seem quite as deep and lush as Suddenly.

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