Valerie Taylor’s debut novel, “What’s Not Said” (She Writes Press), is a mystery, a romance and a tale about chance and coincidence. It’s a book about secrets and lies and the elusive dream of a fairytale ending.
Taylor sets two stories in motion right away — Kassie O’Callaghan is plotting her escape from an unhappy marriage; and Mike, her husband, is suddenly and inexplicably very, very sick. Meanwhile, a handsome young man named Christopher checks his bags at the airport.
Best-laid plans immediately go awry in Chapter One, and it only gets worse as Kassie struggles to balance her obligations as a wife (and now caregiver) with her other, newfound role as a star in her own dream-come-true romance. The aforementioned Christopher checks into a hotel, awaiting his lover (Kassie), who is frantically covering her tracks from truncated hospital visits, rushing home to feed the cat, packing and then lugging her suitcase through the hotel lobby.
Readers may find it difficult to decide who to root for. Kassie’s been unfaithful to her husband, Mike has been lying to his wife and it looks like Chris is making a seriously risky life choice. Even the other characters in the book are not sure. Kassie’s mom defends Mike; Chris’s friends doubt his sanity; Kassie’s best friend does her level best to stand by Kassie, even when Kassie is behaving like “Bad Kassie.”
And “Bad Kassie” is increasingly hard to suppress as things get more and more complicated. Her patience is tried, her morals are compromised and her loyalties are frayed.
Many readers may align themselves with Kassie’s mom, defending poor Mike as he languishes, frustrated, in his hospital bed. But a carefully constructed web of his lies is exposed, first one, then another, until readers are left questioning their allegiances. Maybe Mike is not an innocent victim, sick and cuckolded. Maybe …
What is locked in that metal box Kassie unearthed in a bedroom drawer while choosing a pair of pajamas to take to the hospital? And what does this other random key on his keychain fit?
Shoved into the periphery, lover Chris still seems to be a voice of reason, acting as devil’s advocate and confidant while Kassie’s world gets more and more complicated, revealing information that has been heating up her husband’s world for decades.
“This changes nothing, Mike,” Kassie tells her husband after secrets and lies and betrayals and love have all been scattered, and we may be hoping she is right.
Sometimes tying up loose ends does not mean a particularly happy ending, and sometimes we have to redefine what a truly happy ending is, or whether it matters how long it lasts.
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