Eve Lattimore is barely keeping things together. Her husband works fifteen hundred miles away, leaving Eve to juggle singlehandedly the demands of their teenaged daughter and fragile son. Tyler was born with XP—the so-called vampire disease: even one moment of sun exposure can have fatal consequences. So Eve does what any mother might do: she turns their home into a fortress. Every day, she watches the sun rise and fall, and keeps a close eye on her child. Friendships fall away. Her marriage is on the rocks. Her daughter’s going through something but won’t talk about it. Still, Eve believes that it’s all a matter of time before a cure is found, and everything can resume its normal course.
Until the night she makes a terrible decision, and it’s not only the sun she has to hide from.
Praise for The Deepest Secret
“A taut family drama . . . smart and thrilling.”—People
“Elegant, poignant, and utterly riveting . . . a suspenseful tale of love, forgiveness, and sacrifice that will leave you asking how far a mother really should go to protect her family and wondering about the cost of the secrets we all keep, even from ourselves.”—Kimberly McCreight, New York Times bestselling author of Reconstructing Amelia
“Exceptionally moving and unrelentingly suspenseful . . . everything a great novel, and thriller, should be.”—Providence Journal
“Superb . . . The story offers the intricate suspense and surprise of a thriller, along with rich characterizations and nuanced writing. . . . A gripping read and a memorable reflection on the conflicting imperatives of love.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Carla Buckley masterfully portrays an ordinary family trapped in a heart-wrenching crisis.”—William Landay, New York Times bestselling author of Defending Jacob
“Fans of Jodi Picoult will enjoy this compelling blend of ripped-from-the-headlines suspense and close-to-your-heart characters.”—Lisa Gardner, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Fear Nothing
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.10(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Birthdays are supposed to be happy occasions, so Eve plans a party. There are the usual anxieties. Who would come? Would Tyler like his presents? Then there are the special worries, the ones other people didn’t have to think about. She won’t focus on those.
She makes a cake, a bigger-than-life-size iPad that takes a day and a half to decorate instead of the six hours the Internet site promised. The problem is getting the paint the right consistency so the lake doesn’t bleed into the shoreline. And all those tiny icons. She’s tossed dozens in the trash, false starts where the Facebook f was too wobbly and the camera came out looking as though a giant thumb had pressed down hard. She hesitates over balloons. Do they even matter at night? In the end, she decides, why not, and drives home from the party store with so many fat balloons crammed into her backseat that she can’t see out her rearview mirror. She imagines being pulled over by the police for driving under the influence of helium.
Melissa’s in the kitchen when Eve arrives home, and helps carry in the bags. She reaches for the balloons and frowns at the rainbow of colors. “Pink, Mom, really?”
Melissa’s long black hair is pulled back in an untidy topknot Eve knows her daughter has worked for hours to achieve. One of her tank top straps is twisted, revealing the pale strip of skin beneath where the sun hasn’t lingered. Eve wants to tug it straight and warn her daughter to be careful, but Melissa has heard it all before. “Pink looks good in moonlight,” Eve says.
A knock on the kitchen door. It’s Charlotte and Amy, arriving early to help. Dear Charlotte.
What would Eve do without her kindness, her humor? Charlotte has pulled her through the dark days. She has kept Eve sane.
“One spicy chili dip, extra sour cream by request,” Charlotte says, setting down the dish on the counter. She’s wearing a determined smile on her face. Amy looks mutinous. Eve guesses they’ve been having another mother-daughter battle all the way down the street.
Charlotte’s hair is short and dyed dark red. It cups her head and suits her high cheekbones and long neck. The day after Owen served her with divorce papers, Charlotte went out and had her long blond hair chopped off. What do you think? she’d demanded as she stepped into Eve’s kitchen. She’d run her fingers through the short wisps, making them stand up. Do I look like someone who knows how to have a good time?
Amy’s carrying a package, the electric blue wrapping paper crumpled at the corners and the white ribbon twisted into a crooked bow. “It’s Force Field Three,” she confides in a whisper, as if
Tyler could hear her all the way from his room upstairs. “Do you think he’ll like it?” Her brown eyes are wide and her lashes pale gold, a smatter of freckles across the tops of her cheeks. She’s a sprite, a funny little elf always dressed in shades of pink, much to Charlotte’s private dismay. She thinks it shows no imagination.
“He’ll love it,” Eve promises, putting a hand on the child’s small shoulder. Is it okay that Tyler spends so much time staring at a computer screen?
They go out onto the patio, the air heavy with heat. Amy skips off to help Melissa tie the balloons to the trampoline. The sun’s holding itself just above the horizon, sending out greedy shoots of orange light that carves shadows across the patio and grass. Eve used to love the sun, would lounge outside for hours, letting it toast her skin, her face tilted to the warmth. But this is as close as she comes to the sun now.
“Any word from David?” Charlotte asks, and Eve shakes her head. There weren’t that many flights between Columbus and Washington, DC. It could be that David had raced to make the last one and hadn’t had a chance to call beforehand. I’ll try and be there, he’d said. If he could wrap up the project he’s working on. If he could catch an earlier flight. She could drown in ifs.
“He’s bringing Tyler’s present. He would have let me know if he wasn’t going to be here.” She says this, wanting reassurance. She says this, wanting to make it true.
“Maybe he wants to surprise you.”
Wouldn’t that be wonderful? The gate would creak open and David would step into the yard, his brown hair rumpled over his high forehead, that knowing smile that reached up to his blue eyes. David used to love to surprise her with a note taped to the bathroom mirror, a single flower sent special delivery.
Her parents haven’t called, either. But at least they’d sent a card, a blue envelope propped on the kitchen table where Tyler would find it when he came downstairs. Inside would be the usual check, which Tyler would pretend to be thrilled about. Money meant nothing to him. How could it?
At 8:11, the bolt shoots back and Tyler shuffles out of his room, his camera in his hand. “Happy birthday,” she says, throwing her arms around him. He ducks his head in embarrassment, lamplight winking across the lenses of his sunglasses.
“Happy birthday, dweeb,” Melissa says, lightly cuffing him on the shoulder.
His friends are on the patio, elbowing and jostling. Four of them, when there should be seven, but at least his best friend’s there. The boys are all different heights and sizes, caught at that awkward stage where they don’t even look like they belong to the same species. They cheer when Tyler steps out to join them. He fits right among them, not too tall, not too short. He smiles when he sees the glowing paper lanterns. “Cool,” he says, and holds up his camera.
The pizza arrives and Charlotte helps her set out the food. Amy flits around, snatching up a piece of fruit, chasing fireflies blinking in the distance. A few neighbors have shown up. It’s painful to see Albert without Rosemary. He’s aged, moving slowly, holding onto the back of a chair for support. Sophie makes a brief appearance, and so does Neil Cipriano, who stands a careful distance away from everyone. No sign of the new neighbors, the Rylands, but that’s no surprise. Charlotte had been the one to sell them the house, and she’d raved about how wonderful they were. You’ll love them, she’d assured Eve. They’re the sweetest family. But Charlotte knew her reassurances meant nothing until Eve had a chance to talk to them about Tyler. Eve had stopped on her way to the party store to greet them as they stood in their driveway watching the movers unload their furniture. Holly had listened to Eve’s request, but it had been Mark who’d reached out to accept the basket of incandescent light bulbs. Sure, he’d said. No problem.
What would she have done, otherwise? Tyler would never have been able to walk out his front door, let alone go into his own backyard. She’d called David to share the news and gotten his voicemail. Guess what, she’d said, leaving her message, not knowing when he’d pick it up.
Tyler seems to be having a good time. He’s jumping on the trampoline with his friends, the fabric sagging alarmingly low, burdened as it is by the weight of five adolescent boys. They’ve rigged the sprinkler to rotate beneath them, and they’re howling with laughter as the water sprays back and forth. Eve had offered to rent out a movie theater, or drive everyone to a nearby cave to spelunk, but Tyler had shaken his head at every suggestion. Nothing, he’d told her. I don’t want anything.
He’s growing up, David said when she worried Tyler might be depressed. It would be reassuring if that was true, but what if it wasn’t? Tyler hadn’t liked the therapist she’d found. I’ll find someone else, she’d offered, but Tyler had scowled. Just stop, Mom, he’d said, and so she has.
But she and the other XP moms talk. Fourteen’s a dangerous age, old enough to understand, but too young to accept. Fourteen-year-olds chafe against restrictions, defy the rules that have kept them safe. She’s heard about the terrible battles the other mothers have waged. Doesn’t he know that he has to wear his sunglasses? I caught her sneaking outside! She’s listened and commiserated. Tyler’s already started to take risks. He won’t wear his mask when she takes him to his medical appointments. He hates it, keeps it on the shelf of his closet. It’s not like she can force him to put it on. The other mothers listen, murmur reassurances. Even the best kids rebel.
She brings out the cake, candles flickering in the darkness, and they sing happy birthday. She sees her husband’s features reflected in their candlelit son, the fullness of his lower lip, the roundness of his eyes. Tyler makes a wish and blows. Charlotte glances at her and immediately picks up the knife and begins serving cake, so that Eve can step back into the shadows and compose herself.
Fourteen birthdays so far. She remembers them all: His fourth, when all the kids ran around barking, wearing floppy Dalmatian ears she’d hot-glued out of black and white felt, and ate birthday cake baked in a big steel bowl like dog food. His fifth, where they fished for prizes with magnets tied to strings. His seventh, when they wore cowboy hats and roasted hot dogs over a bonfire. His ninth, when she wrote HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!! in phosphorescent chalk on the sidewalk all the way down to the park where his friends waited to jump out and surprise him. His eleventh, when she converted the backyard into a moonscape, and everyone ate astronaut ice cream and flung glow-in-the-dark Frisbees that trailed white blurs of false light.
They’d all been wonderful, in that imperfect way birthdays are, but the best had been his very first, before they knew. She’d set up a wading pool and Tyler had splashed in and out all afternoon, clapping his hands, his dimpled knees churning. Her parents and David’s father had been there, laden down with presents, so many that she had to set a few aside to open later. Three-year-old Melissa had run around singing her favorite Barney song and fallen asleep in David’s lap. It had been the happiest birthday by far. There would never be another like it.
Reading Group Guide
An Interview with Carla Buckley and Kimberly McCreight
Kimberly McCreight is the New York Times bestselling author of Reconstructing Amelia. She lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn, with her husband and two daughters, where she is hard at work on her second novel, How I Lost Her, which will be published in 2015. Her teen trilogy, The Outliers, will be published in 2016.
Kimberly McCreight: The Deepest Secret is a compelling family drama, but it’s also packed with suspense. Which aspect of the story were you drawn to most?
Carla Buckley: Is it fair to say both?
I’m endlessly fascinated by how families behave under stress, how facing a crisis can bring some families together while others crumble. Being a mother myself, I want to know the answer to the nurture-nature question of how we become the people we are and, once we’re shaped, whether we can change.
Parents are regularly called upon to make tough decisions, often with little warning and no assurance that they’ve made the right choice. What if we were confronted with a terrible dilemma and had only a moment to think—how would we know what to do and what if we made a mistake? Would we be able to forgive ourselves? I hope my readers recognize themselves in my characters and ask themselves what they would do if they had to wrestle with the same issues.
KM: You write with enormous empathy. Do you think that Eve is a good mother? David a good father?
CB: Coming home from the hospital with my first child, the one thing I wished for most was a how-to manual, some magical reference tool that could tell me exactly how to take care of this infinitely vulnerable, impossibly tiny new life with which I and my husband been entrusted. I’d lost both parents several years before and had no extended family to help me figure out my new role as mom. All I had was love and a fierce determination to do the best job I could.
My husband and I ended up having three children so I’ve had my share of emergency room visits and sleepless nights filled with worry and heartache. I’ve watched my children stumble but I’ve also watched them get up. I’ve made plenty of mistakes of my own, and the one lesson I’ve learned—and keep trying to learn—is compassion. To look around and understand that everyone makes mistakes. Everyone stumbles. Everyone’s just trying to do the best job they can. There is no magical parenting manual.
So do I think Eve and David are good parents? I’m not sure I believe there is such a thing. Who gets to decide what constitutes good parenting? I’m more comfortable thinking of them as real parents. They’re just trying to raise their children to be the best they can be, despite hardship and sacrifice, despite a world that offers them very few solutions.
KM: This is your third novel. How is The Deepest Secret similar to or different from The Things That Keep Us Here and Invisible? How has your writing process changed—if at all—over time?
CB: I would say that all my novels have the drumbeat of a thriller with the heartbeat of a family drama. I came to write this way almost by accident.
I’d written eight unpublished traditional mysteries when I decided to change course and tackle a question that had been haunting me for some time: how would I protect my family if the worst came to pass and the H5N1 flu strain in China turned pandemic? That story became The Things That Keep Us Here, a novel set entirely in one family’s living room as a pandemic rages around them. In my second novel, Invisible, I asked myself how much hardship a family could sustain before it broke apart. I set that story in a fictitious northern Minnesota town reeling from a deadly environmental contamination.
In some ways, The Deepest Secret is like both of my previous works. In it, I also follow a family already in crisis forced to their breaking point by a devastating event. I explore the same themes of community and moral obligation; I ask, who are we when no one’s looking—or when we think no one’s looking? But in other ways, The Deepest Secret ventures into new territory for me. There’s no global threat, no impending doom hovering overhead. I focused more sharply on a much smaller scale—eight suburban houses ranged along a cul-de-sac—and to my surprise, found my story expanding into something much bigger.
At heart, The Deepest Secret is about one boy growing up and the impact that one small life can have on so many others. It’s a story about love in all its guises and in the end, love prevails—which is the happiest ending of all.
KM: I imagine the novel has sparked some intense discussion. Have you been surprised by readers’ reactions? Does your own opinion about who is culpable dovetail with reader reactions?
CB: One of my biggest challenges in writing this story was making Eve sympathetic. I wondered whether some readers might not be able to get past the hit-and-run scene, but I hoped they would persevere, if for no other reason than to find out what happened next. What has surprised me, however, is how many readers have sided with Eve, understanding how isolated she felt. They’ve pointed to David’s abandoning his family and Charlotte’s letting her young daughter leave the house in the middle of a thunderstorm. What about Robbie, chasing a terrified young girl through the woods? Owen, for not answering Amy’s plea for help? It’s impossible to say, There. That’s the moment where everything started. I believe that everyone in a community shares responsibility for what happens within it and I’m gratified to know that readers have agreed.
KM: XP is a relatively rare medical condition—what got you interested in this disease? Do you have any personal connection to the subject matter?
CB: When I began thinking about ideas for my third book, my son was fifteen and learning to drive, his first real step to growing up and leaving home. It occurred to me that this normal, turbulent, and always challenging period of a boy’s adolescence would be complicated immeasurably if he had a medical condition. But which one? I turned to my sister, a writer and a physician, for ideas and she suggested xeroderma pigmentosum. It sounded familiar and when she explained that it was essentially an allergy to sunlight, all the bells in my head started loudly chiming.
How on earth do you protect a child from something as ubiquitous as sunlight? I began to imagine a mother whose sole focus was doing just that. Her son could never attend school or play a sport; he would be virtually imprisoned within his own house. I had recently read Emma Donoghue’s Room and I saw the mother in my own story building her son a special world to compensate for the real one he could never investigate; I saw her fight passionately to help him lead as normal a life as possible. I wanted to spend time with a mother like that. I wanted to understand her.
KM: Your descriptions of the Lattimore family’s day-to-day life are so vivid. What kind of research did you do medical or otherwise to so effectively capture their experience?
CB: XP is an extraordinarily rare disease passed on by both parents in which a person’s skin and eye cells cannot repair the deadly damage done by ultraviolet radiation. Most parents don’t realize they’re carriers until their child is diagnosed, usually by the time their child is two years old. But by then, the damage has already been done. The average life expectancy for someone born with XP is twenty years. Though doctors understand what causes XP, they can’t prevent it and there is no cure.
In order to understand the disease itself, I scoured online resources (there are two parent-run organizations, one in the U.S. and the other in the U.K. that offer general information to caregivers), read numerous medical research papers, and interviewed dermatologists and dentists. Combined, this gave me a basic foundation upon which to build. Then I began to put myself in Eve’s place to imagine what I would do if I had to keep my child safe from sunlight.
KM: Secrets play a significant role in this novel. Is there one character whose secret you see as being the most significant—in other words, the deepest secret?
CB: In many ways, the titular secret is Eve’s. Her decision to keep silent about the hit-and-run is what sets everything in motion, but as I wrote, my story evolved into something more than a mother’s dilemma. It became about the terrible cost of keeping a secret. After all, we all keep secrets, even from those we love the most—sometimes, especially from those we love the most. We can have desperately good reasons for keeping something to ourselves. But secrets can nibble corrosively at a family’s well-being. They can leach into the homes of our friends and our neighbors. They can rip apart a community.
KM: Did you know from the outset where the characters in The Deepest Secret would end up? Did the conclusion surprise you?
CB: I’m a plotter. Before I start any story, I structure it into four acts and figure out the turning points at each critical juncture, which for me occurs every fifty pages. Doing so keeps me focused as I write and helps me create a taut suspense through line. Therefore, I always know exactly where my story starts and ends.
Or at least I thought I did.
The ending for The Deepest Secret eluded me for the longest time. As I wrote, I realized that the ending I had initially decided on didn’t answer the important questions about the characters I had begun to know. The first draft I submitted to my editor included the caveat that I was still working on the ending. I hoped her feedback would help me find it. Six drafts later, we did indeed uncover an ending that made me happy and one I hoped left the reader at a satisfying place.
KM: Can you tell us a little bit about your next project? Because I can’t wait to read it!
CB: Thanks, Kim! My next novel, The Good Goodbye, is the story of two young cousins after they arrive at a burn unit following a devastating college fire, and that of their families and the mystery which ultimately brought them to that moment.
1. How do you think Melissa’s and Tyler’s involvement in the crime (Melissa as a suspect and Tyler planting evidence) impacted Eve’s actions? Would she have confessed if her children had not been involved?
2. Eve’s efforts to guard her son from light are sometimes considered excessive—by her son, her husband, and her neighbors. Notably, Eve’s determination to prevent Sophie from installing outdoor lights on her house leads to a neighborhood fight. What do you think of Eve’s protective instincts? Does she take things too far, or is she behaving as any concerned parent would?
3. At one point, Holly asks Tyler “Do you think it’s better to have dreams and lose them, or not have dreams at all?” How would you respond? What do you make of Holly and her relationship with Tyler?
4. David wants to move the family to Washington, but Eve -considers this impossible given Tyler’s condition. Is David’s desire to move selfish, or is he looking out for the family’s best interests?
5. What sacrifices does Eve make for the sake of her family? Are they necessary? Is it worth it?
6. Describe the relationship between Tyler and Eve. In the end, Tyler’s desire to protect his sister led him to make questionable choices. How are his choices similar to Eve’s? How are they different?
7. Discuss the nature of secrets. Is it human nature to keep secrets? Do our secrets define us? Is it human nature to want to know the secrets of others and to confess our own? Do you believe that all secrets eventually come to light? What is The Deepest Secret?
8. Tyler learns some surprising truths about his neighbors during his nighttime wanderings. How do people change in the moments during which they believe themselves to be alone? During unobserved moments, are people more themselves? How much of life is a performance, and to what extent are we defined by the external perceptions and behavioral expectations of others?
9. How much did you sympathize with Eve? Would you feel differently about her actions if she had not been texting at the time of the accident? What if Tyler had not been burned while playing basketball with David? Would you have felt differently about Eve’s behavior if Melissa had been the one to hit Amy?
10. How would you describe Eve’s relationship with Melissa? Melissa’s needs in her family are often viewed as secondary to Tyler’s, given his illness. How do you think this attitude impacted her psychologically? How did it affect her relationships with Tyler, Eve, and David?
11. It seems clear by the end that a number of people played some role in Amy’s death, including Charlotte, Robbie, and Eve. Who, if anyone, do you hold responsible?
12. What do you consider appropriate punishment for the driver in a hit-and-run accident? Can there ever be extenuating circumstances, such as Tyler’s condition, that justify fleeing the scene of a deadly accident? If so, what are those circumstances?
13. Toward the end of the novel, Charlotte says, “If it were my Amy—I’d have done just what Eve did.” What do you think of this statement? If you had been in Eve’s position, how would you have acted on the night of the accident? In the weeks following?
14. What did you think of the conclusion of the novel? Did it end as you expected it to? Were you satisfied?