Every Secret Thing

Every Secret Thing

by Lila Shaara

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“A moving and compelling story . . . the debut of an utterly original voice.”
–Carol Goodman, author of The Ghost Orchid

I only got one birthday present, and as it turned out, it was a gift of such importance, opening it should have sent psychic shivers through me. But I merely thought it a curiosity, vaguely creepy but nothing threatening.

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“A moving and compelling story . . . the debut of an utterly original voice.”
–Carol Goodman, author of The Ghost Orchid

I only got one birthday present, and as it turned out, it was a gift of such importance, opening it should have sent psychic shivers through me. But I merely thought it a curiosity, vaguely creepy but nothing threatening. Not a portent.

Gina Paletta should have been used to upheaval. From her childhood in a small southern town to her career in Manhattan’s glamorous modeling world to sudden, unplanned motherhood, Gina has forever struggled to keep her life under control. Now, at thirty-three–her “year of waking up”–she has moved with her young sons to upstate New York and reinvented herself as a college professor. At last she can nurse the fragile hope of safety, the hope of security.

But Gina learns that security is an illusion when a pair of police detectives arrive at her doorstep. Two of Gina’s students have posted salacious photographs of her on a website. Even more troubling, these young men are suspects in a local murder. Beneath the campus elms, amid the ivied masonry of the collegiate buildings, and in the libraries where she secrets herself from the world, Gina Paletta must now contend with a new sensation: terror.

As the tension rises, Gina turns to her family and friends, only to discover lies and violence beneath placid surfaces. Fearful for her safety and that of her children, determined to guard the new life she has built, Gina comes to rely on the company and protection of one of the detectives assigned to her case. Yet even as their relationship grows more complicated, the danger around them mounts–and Gina finds herself marshaling reserves of strength and resolve she never dreamed existed.

Riveting and hypnotic, lyrical and tense, Every Secret Thing is a remarkable debut: a provocative psychological drama about love, guilt, fear, and every secret thing that binds us together.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Shaara's uneven debut, a romantic crime thriller, focuses on the perils of Gina Paletta, a former supermodel and 33-year-old widowed mother of endearing twin boys. Yale-educated Gina teaches the history of theology at Tenway University, which is a two-hour drive from Manhattan in a vague locale that could be New Jersey or upstate New York. Two students, Tim Solomon and Jason Dettwiler, whom the police suspect of murdering a friend, enter photos from her lingerie-modeling days onto an Internet site, then stalk her. Two attractive NYPD detectives, Tommy Galloway and Russell Barnes, arrive to investigate and protect her (neither logistics nor jurisdictions matter). Most of Gina's large family resent and hate Gina, apparently because she's smart, gorgeous and had a glamorous career. The off-and-on romance between Gina and Tommy propels the plot more than the police work. Unfortunately, weak character motivation and too many subplots muddy this novel by the daughter of Pulitzer Prize-winner Michael Shaara and the sister of historical novelist Jeff Shaara. (July) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
After modeling, Gina thought life as a professor in a quiet college town would be nice and easy. But then she's featured in some risque photos posted on the web, and the suspects are students of hers who may also be involved in murder. A debut for Shaara, whose father and brother are best-selling novelists. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.43(w) x 9.55(h) x 1.38(d)

Read an Excerpt

Every Secret Thing

By Lila Shaara

Random House

Lila Shaara
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0345485653

Chapter One

Chapter One

[Y]ou were kicked off the edge of a precipice when you were born, and it's no help to cling to the rocks falling with you. If you are afraid of death, be afraid. The point is to get with it, to let it take over--fear, ghosts, pains, transience, dissolution, and all. And then comes the hitherto unbelievable surprise: you don't die because you were never born. You had just forgotten who you are. - Alan Watts, The Book

I had a dream on the clammy November day I turned thirty-three. I was standing on the edge of a cliff, talking to my deceased grandmother. I was saying something to her to the effect that I was undecided about taking the plunge off the cliff. She looked at me in some disgust, grabbed my wrist fiercely, and flung me off the edge, saying, "It's too late, honey, you're already falling." I woke up then with a small yelp, wrist aching. At the time, I couldn't figure out what big venture I had started but wasn't admitting that I had started. I think now that I knew, on however unconscious a level, that I was about to undergo one of those unpredictable, lurching life changes that I was prone to. I am always planning, strategizing, saving, investing, but the architecture of my life seems to be constructed for me, often without any participation on my part till the last minute. I'm in the midst of making mypeace with this; on my thirty-third birthday I was still in denial that I had so little control over my life. Numerology isn't highly thought of in the academic circles I inhabit now, but I have always found it interesting. Thirty-three is significant; it was the final age of Christ and is the number of resurrection, of enlightenment.

I only got one present, and as it turned out, it was a gift of such importance, opening it should have sent psychic shivers through me, sent my heart pounding so much that I should have been swaying visibly with the force of it. But I merely thought it a curiosity, vaguely creepy but nothing threatening. Not a portent.

There was no return address on the package, which was about the size of a sandwich, small enough to fit inside the mailbox. It was wrapped in brown paper and held together with ribbed tape that had been applied meticulously. It had been sent to "Gina P." at my address, written in black marker. I didn't think it likely that I was a target of a terrorist threat or anything else that sinister. I thought maybe it could have been a mistake of some kind, but it was difficult to see how that was very likely either. So I opened it.

Inside what turned out to be plain corrugated cardboard was a smaller, purple gift box, only about an inch deep and foiled with embossed irises. I thought briefly that if I had had a daughter, she might have loved to have such a box for little girly things. Having boys who fit the cultural mold in most ways, I knew they would have found the mere suggestion of using such a thing supremely offensive.

I removed the lid. Lying on a bed of soft white cotton was a pendant on a fine gold chain: a pale jade heart the size of a half dollar and the color of pistachio ice cream. It looked real and expensive. I thought again, this must be some mistake, but I couldn't imagine how such a thing might happen. There was no note, no card. In hindsight, the truth, or at least part of it, should have been as obvious as the daylight. But at the time I was dim and relatively worry-free about the pendant. I didn't like it much; it seemed sentimental and gaudy. I didn't wear much jewelry then, anyway, and this was not something I ever would have worn, even in the past when my life dictated that I be more decorated. I put it in the bottom compartment of my largest jewelry box, where it lay while curiosity about it bothered me for a few days, and then I forgot its existence completely. I'm grateful now that I didn't worry over it like a kitten with a dead mouse. It wouldn't have been out of character. But birthdays tended to depress me a little; this wasn't the only time when the distractedness of depression bought me a little peace.

Anyone who seeks out the single mother experience by choice, I think, must be insane. Or stupid. I am not talking about the millions of single moms in the world who are what they are by chance or misfortune, like me. I'm talking about the working women who choose to get pregnant on their own to be fulfilled or whatever. I had no plans to become a mom of any kind, but a combination of chance circumstances, stupidity, and some dubious choices (on my part), as well as deception on the part of another, conspired to bring me here, not only a single mother but the mother of twin boys. I have known people, as I'm sure you have, who are the product of large and busy families. They have many siblings or lots of cousins; holidays are noisy and crowded with lots of things and smells and singing. And the world is filled with children. It's a regular thing that kids are everywhere, their needs are dealt with routinely by whatever adults are available, and discipline is easy and communal. In other words, having kids around is, well, normal.

That was not my personal experience. My parents chose to live well away from human congress for reasons that are still not entirely clear to me. They didn't even seem to like each other very much but adhered in that unfortunate alchemy that keeps miserable couples incomplete without each other. They bought a large, drafty, and not very sound farmhouse parked in the middle of a fallow sugarcane field five miles outside of sparsely populated Stoweville, Florida, when I was about five. After a few years the visits from the few friends my parents still possessed and from the few relatives my father had ever tolerated dwindled to nothing. And so, dealing with other children became a total mystery to me. On the long bus rides through the canopy roads to my underfunded public school, I sat alone. I saw other children at school but had no idea what to do with them. After I finished playing with dolls at about age nine, I never again fantasized about having babies, or being a mom, or being a wife, or any of that. I can't really remember what I did fantasize about, which is odd, because I lived almost completely in my head. One sister was six years older and had no use for me whatsoever. My younger sister had the mysterious (to me) power of attracting friends no matter how remote we were physically from them and so was at other people's houses a lot of the time. When she wasn't, we played ceaselessly, so that when she was gone, I ached with loss and jealousy. I never understood her secret for, seemingly without effort, getting people to transport her wherever she wanted to go. Her friends seldom came to our unwelcoming house. So when she was away I missed her and envied her, and I reveled in her when she was home, until she got sick. Then she was home all the time, and I have lived with the guilt ever since, of having enjoyed the last six months of her life more than I enjoyed any others of my childhood. The aftermath was, of course, one of the blackest times of my life, but until then, being a child, I didn't for a moment really believe that she was going to die. I didn't know that children could die. But, of course, as we all must, I learned.

So now, I thought, the portion of the universe that pays attention to me, if any, must be laughing. I, through a series of stupid accidents, became a spectacularly unprepared single mom. I am also an extremely paranoid one, because I know that children can die.

Excerpted from Every Secret Thing by Lila Shaara Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

Lila Shaara completed her B.A. in religious studies at Duke University, then received a master’s degree in archaeology and a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology at the University of Pittsburgh. She lives in western Pennsylvania with her husband, two children, two cats, and six fish. This is her first novel.

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