What fascinates me about this book is what it has to say about "secrets." Here's the basic premise (hopefully without giving too much away) - a doctor is forced to deliver his wife's child in the middle of a raging snowstorm. The only complication is that she's actually carrying twins - the first, a healthy beautiful baby boy; the second, a Downs Syndrome baby girl. The year is 1964, when such children are regularly institutionalized - after all, babies like this rarely survive long anyway, and even if they do, their quality of life is marginal at best.
As a doctor, David Henry knows his daughters prognosis full well, and rather than force his young wife Norah to deal with such a tragedy, he makes a snap decision to try and protect her from a lifetime of unspeakable grief. His solution: hand the "defective" daughter to his nurse to deliver to an institution, while he informs his wife of the tragedy - she delivered twins, but her daughter did not survive childbirth. She is dead. Gone.
With that simple little secret, the future is inescapably changed, his doom is sealed - unbeknownst to anyone, the nurse flees into hiding to raise the child as her own.
The rest of the book is riveting, because we get to see firsthand the effects of his fall - on his relationship with his wife, his son, and eventually everyone else around him. It's a tragic book (I'm not sure I could read it again), because it's not Hollywood - it's brutally true to the lives that many of us have experienced ourselves.
The one ray of hope comes unexpectedly, as David Henry confesses everything - no more secrets - to a young woman with child.
In the silence David started talking again, trying to explain at first about the snow and the shock and the scalpel flashing in the harsh light. How he has stood outside himself and watched himself moving in the world. How he had woken up every morning of his life for eithteen years thinking maybe today, maybe this was the day he would put things right. But Phoebe was gone and he couldn't find her, so how could he possibly tell Norah?And this single act of honesty produces the deepest intimacy he has ever experienced - it's not sexual, but relational - with a human being who knows the very worst about him and yet who does not reject him for it.
The secret had worked its way through their marriage, an insidious vine, twisting; she drank too much, and then she began having affairs, that sleazy realtor at the beach, and then the others; he's tried not to notice, to forgive her, for he knew that in some real sense the fault was his. Photo after photo, as if he could stop time or make an image powerful enough to obscure the moment when he had turned and handed his daughter to Caroline Gill. ...
He had handed his daughter to Caroline Gill and that act had led him here, years later, to this girl in motion of her own, this girl who had decided yes, a brief moment of release in the back of a car or in the room of a silent house, this girl who had stood up later, adjusting her clothes, with no knowledge of how that moment was already shaping her life.
She cut [paper] and listened. Her silence made him free. He talked like a river, like a storm, words rushing through the old house with a force and life he could not stop. At some point he began to weep again, and he could not stop that either. Rosemary made no comment whatsoever. He talked until the words slowed, ebbed, finally ceased.
Silence welled. She did not speak. ...
"All right," she said [at last]. "You're free."
He'd poured out his story to her in such a rush, the first and last time he had ever told it, and she had listened without judging him. There was freedom in that; David could be completely himself with Rosemary, who had listened to what he'd done without rejection him and without telling anyone, either....He confesses. She accepts him as he his. And he finally finds freedom.
What if the church could be like this - a place where you could lay all your garbage on the table, all the deepest darkest secrets that you've never told anyone, and still find acceptance, forgiveness, love. There is something deeply freeing about honesty and real love - it never minimizes the wrongs we have done; it embraces us in spite of them; and it refuses to leave us in our place of desparate isolation.
I think the church must be like this, because God is like this. And this is the kind of church we desire to be, because this is the only way to experience the freedom of the gospel.