Secrecyby Belva Plain
Something terrible happened to Charlotte Dawes when she was 14, something that's become the center of a tangled mass of family secrets that threatens to destroy every member of the Dawes family. No one -- not her father, the well-respected Bill Dawes, or her absent mother Elena, or her uncle Cliff -- knows how to help Charlotte face what her new cousin Ted did to her.… See more details below
Something terrible happened to Charlotte Dawes when she was 14, something that's become the center of a tangled mass of family secrets that threatens to destroy every member of the Dawes family. No one -- not her father, the well-respected Bill Dawes, or her absent mother Elena, or her uncle Cliff -- knows how to help Charlotte face what her new cousin Ted did to her. Only Claudia, Ted's mother, who must face her own agony at having raised this monster, can reach Charlotte, befriending her, serving as a sort of surrogate mother.
For the Dawes family, what happened to Charlotte was the beginning of the end. Once factory owners and major employers in this New England mill town, the family has been plunged into debt and disgrace. The mill site has been leased to unscrupulous businessmen who are carelessly destroying the environment. And worse: Ted, accused of attacking two other girls, jumped bail and vanished. Charlotte is now in her mid-20s, an architect with a promising future. She's bright, beautiful -- and endlessly alone.
A brief trip to her hometown provides her with a flash of inspiration, an urban renewal project designed to restore the mill site and return her family's respect within the town. She and Roger, the young construction executive whom she befriends in Boston, who takes an enormous interest in the project, begin to make it reality. But after months of preparation, the plans suddenly grind to a halt -- and when Charlotte finally discovers who is at the center of the problem, old secrets rise to the surface again, demanding to be untangled. It's a terrifying process, but one that might open the way for Charlotte to truly let someone into her life.
Combining Belva Plain's signature storytelling with an electrifying narrative that sweeps the reader along to its startling conclusion, Secrecy tells a tale of injustice, of wild hearts and stubborn minds and of a young woman's struggle to make sense of her family.
Charlotte Dawes is raped at 14 by her cousin-by-marriage, the randy Ted, son of her uncle Cliff's new wife, Claudia, whose first husband was shot inwhere else?Chicago. When Charlotte becomes pregnant, then, her father and her romantic adventuress mother are wild with rage. Both are beside their daughter's bedside as she recovers from an operation for a ruptured tubal pregnancy. In the meantime, Ted continues to assault women and is finally arrested and indicted for rape and kidnapping. Home on bail, he escapes in the night. (Reports from abroad of Ted-sightings occur now and then.) Skip to Manhattan eight years later, where adult Charlotte works for an architectural firm. She loves her work but despairs of forming a firm relationship with a man, sex-shy as she is. She designs for her own pleasure a "public square" fit for the Dawes's now shuttered mill. Unfortunately, her family has inadvertently leased the mill to a polluting waste-disposal firm, to the anger of the town and the despair of the Daweses. Then Charlotte meets the dashing Roger Heywood, whose family deals in commercial real estate. Roger is not only able to come up with the ready cash to finance Charlotte's project, but (of course) coaxes her out of her trauma-related fear of sex. Finally, Claudia, trading on her late husband's mob connections, talks a boss out of retaining the mill. Looks like smooth sailing for the lovers, but disaster threatens again in the form of a flood and a potential terrible discovery.
Plain Plain (Promises, 1986, etc.), but nonetheless name- anointed for success.
San Francisco Chronicle
"Belva Plain is in a class by herself."
The New York Times
"A superb storyteller... A talent worth remembering... Mrs. Plain's novels are good stories well told."
The Star-Ledger (Newark, N.J.)
Read an Excerpt
A door slammed so hard that the glass prisms on the hall light clashed in alarm. Someone very angry had either gone into a room or had left it. Then silence, thick and ominous, fell back. When the silence began to ring, Charlotte pulled the pillow around her ears.
They were arguing again. But they would get over it as they always did. After a while her mother, who was undoubtedly the one who had slammed the door, would quiet down. She wondered whether other people's parents lived like this.
"Childish," said Emmabrown, talking to her nephew the mailman at the front door. "Charlotte's fourteen, and she has more sense in her little finger than her mother has in her whole body."
Emmabrownthat being the name Charlotte herself had bestowedwas proud of her connection with the family; she had kept house for three generations of the Daweses, and liked to talk about their affairs. Dad was her favorite. On the telephone while Charlotte eavesdropped, she grumbled and boasted to her friends.
"I knew Bill and Cliff when those two boys were learning to talk. Bill was the smart one, good natured, too, a real pleasure. So then he goes to Europe one summer for some studies, Lord knows why you have to go there to study, but anyway he did, and comes home three months later married to this Elena, she just twenty and he twenty-two. Kids, they were. The family wasn't too happy about it, either, I can tell you. The one good thing was she's no gold digger. She's an orphan, left with a pile of money of her own. A real good-looker with a foreign accentItalianand a figure like a movie star. Pretty face too. Big eyes and big smile. You can seewhy he fell for her. She winds him around her little finger."
Did she really? Well, maybe. Dad didn't like to fight with people. Sometimes he didn't even answer back, which made Mama more angry. Mama. People called their mothers Mom, but she wanted to be called Mama, with the accent on the end. Silly. Stubborn. In her private thoughts Charlotte called her Elena.
It was cold, even under the quilt. She could feel the October wind coming through the walls. No, she thought then, it's not coming through the walls; the cold is inside me. It's because I'm scared, although I should be used to all this, shouldn't I?
Now there were voices in the hall, barely loud enough to be heard. Dad's voice rumbled.
"What do I do that you don't like?"
"Nothing? You like everything I do? I take it you like everything about me, then?"
Laughter. "No. Oh, no."
Pause. "Oh, good God, Elena, will you open your mouth and say specifically what's wrong today? Specifically?"
"A lot of things. Nothing. I don't know."
"You really don't know anything, do you?"
"That's true. I don't know anything."
"Well, if you didn't spend all your days at the country club, you might know something. I joined for your sake, but I didn't think you were going to make a second home of the place."
"And what am I supposed to do with myself? Get elected to the Board of Education? And the Committee for the Environment? I'm not you, Bill. Those aren't my thing. I wouldn't fit."
That was true. She wouldn't fit. She not only looked different from most other girls' mothers with their sweaters and moccasins and Jeeps, but she was different. That's probably why she had no friends among the PTA ladies; they didn't like her.
But their husbands do, Charlotte thought, thinking, too, how people would be surprised if they knew how much their children noticed: glances, little greetings on a Saturday morning at the post office or at the school play.
They had gone into their room now, which was just across the hall, yet she was still able to hear. They were assuming that she was asleep.
"Get busy with worthwhile things, Elena, and you'll be happier."
"I'll be happier when I get away from this town, this city, whatever you call it. Of all the places in America, I have to end up in New England in a dying factory town. Fifteen years in this town. 'A country town,' you said, and I imagined something with charm, something like Tuscany, with vineyards and old stone houses. Fifteen years in this place."
"You've been living pretty darn well in this place."
"The winter hasn't even begun and I'm already freezing."
Dad sighed. "Oh, what the hell do you want, Elena?"
"I want to go to Florida, to rent a place for a few months."
"That's ridiculous. Charlotte has school."
"We can get tutors for her there. She'd learn more than she would here in school."
"We'll leave her here with Emmabrown. We could shorten our time to six weeks."
"You know all the trouble we've been having with the business. Anyway, I wouldn't leave her for six weeks, no matter what."
"All right, Bill, I may just go by myself."
"You do that."
Dad's anger had petered out, and he was tired. The door closed.
Maybe now I can sleep, Charlotte thought. Suddenly she remembered to put her hand on her heart and feel whether it was beating faster. It was. It always did, whenever they fought.
Even the night before Uncle Cliff's wedding, they had to fight. Even that day they had to spoil.
From the Audio Cassette edition.
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