Written by Rea Frey — In Rea Frey’s compassionate new psychological thriller, Lee is a single mom living near Nashville with a seven-year-old son who’s on the spectrum, and her life isn’t easy. She has a couple of things going for her: a circle of three good friends, especially her friend Grace who’s always there for her and one of the few people her son Mason is fond of. Mason’s handsome, dedicated occupational therapist Noah is helping him with his small and large motor skills as well as channeling and challenging his amazing intellectual capacity. And, Lee works from home, with a hair styling studio in her garage, which means she’s always close at hand, just in case.
In the book’s prologue, a woman goes on a nighttime mountain hike and that it ends tragically. No spoiler here: the first words of the book are, “She is going to die.” But you aren’t sure who it is taking that fatal tumble. The first chapter rewinds the story to a week before the mountain outing and starts filling in the missing pieces. You learn not only about Mason and his charming quirks, but about Noah and Lee’s growing attraction to him. You learn Grace has a secret she wants to tell Lee but, hesitant to reveal it, she’s waiting for exactly the right moment. Several times when she’s worked up the resolve to share, Lee’s insecurity and neediness trump Grace’s attempts at a meaningful conversation.
The minutiae of daily life with a child like Mason is well portrayed. Most kids wouldn’t have a problem with the little things that set him off, and Lee’s whole attention is on preventing an outburst, anticipating his needs, keeping him safe. Plus she has some demons of her own. Before Mason, there was a stretch of time when she was a serious alcoholic and she still goes to AA meetings regularly. She stopped drinking when she became a mom but the pull of it creates an edginess to her personality.
One of their group suggests a getaway for the four of them in the North Carolina mountains, where there’s hiking, a charming bed-and-breakfast, and the opportunity to leave husbands and kids at home. Lee doesn’t have a husband, but the pressure of dealing with Mason is taking a toll. All the friends believe Lee needs this trip the most of all of them, but that she won’t do it. In the end, she won’t leave Mason for two nights and three days, even though Noah agrees to take care of him. And Grace thinks the mountain mini-vacation will be the perfect time to tell Lee her news.
Lee surprises them and says yes. The rest of the book is about the fallout from the revelation and an even deeper exploration of how Lee and Grace became the adults they are. While Grace has been preoccupied with her secrets, those that Lee hides are much deeper and more dangerous. Maybe.
In the mountains, the secrets start tumbling out and the events of the prologue come to pass. But that’s not the end of the story… there are layers and layers yet to come, a past to be excavated.
Frey’s capturing of the women’s interactions and the motives and reactions of Lee and Grace are especially strong. Lee goes overboard with her infatuation with Noah, which makes for some uncomfortable reading as you can see trouble looming, just like every one-sided crush we’ve watched friends crash-and-burn their way through.
Perhaps Grace is a little coy with her big secret, but isn’t it human nature to put off telling a friend something you think may cause a problem? The other two women – Carol and Alice – are really second-fiddle to Lee and Grace, but have their own ways of working. Most of the chapters are written from the perspective of Lee or Grace, with a few from Noah’s point of view.
Just when you think you understand this story and the roles of the players on the board, Frey produces another surprise from her characters’ pasts that suggest a totally different dynamic at play. Nor does she tie the ending up with a too-neat bow. An excellent read.
St Martin’s Press
CFL Rating: 4 Stars