Monday, March 16, 2015

A Small Indiscretion

by Jan Ellison
Random House    2015
323 pages     Fiction

I turned to A Small Indiscretion by Jan Ellison after All The Light We Cannot See thinking that because it was shorter, it might be lighter in tone than the novel I had just finished. Ha! Not the case at all.  A Small Indiscretion is a long letter written by a mother to her grown son, Robbie, following his near death experience and later disappearance. The interesting comparison is that the concept of light, in its many forms, is a metaphor in both A Small Indiscretion and All the Light We Cannot See.

Ellison's novel is part love story, part family drama, part mystery. It involves Annie, the letter's author, as a young woman on the cusp of adulthood taking her first independent steps on a European odyssey and more importantly as a 40-something adult facing the failures of marriage and business in the midst of her son's medical emergency.

All the characters are roundly developed, although perhaps we know less of Robbie, the son, than of the others. Both Annie and her husband Jonathan are in the middle of mid-life crises when Robbie's accident happens, and the plot evolves or perhaps unravels from that point. Much of the problem is precipitated by that arrival in the mail of a photograph from Annie's 19-year-old past. The photograph ignites a passion and longing in Annie that drives her to another trip to the London of her past.

My questions about the book mainly are concerned with Annie's descriptions of her sexual escapades in this letter, which she is writing for her son (and probably her other children) to read. First, I am much too practical to think in terms of unrequited love and longing for days past. Second, my sexual past is not the business of my children. Is it my age? I don't think so. I think it is sufficient that my children know that I have a past; they don't need to know all the details.

That being said, the book brings up many questions about regret and about how the past continues to haunt us throughout our lives. Additionally, many of us spend many hours of our later life trying to reason out the decisions that we made in the long ago past. We always tell our children; don't do something that you will regret your whole life. And for most of us, we speak from experience. However, it is how we move on from our past, learn from it, and grow beyond it that determines our stability and view of the world. 

My musings about A Small Indiscretion are precipitated, in part, by the current lesson I am planning for my church group. The lead off was a poem by author Brian McLaren. I think, to a large degree, McLaren expresses the longing Annie is experiencing as she writes her letter to her son.

When we think back on our journey over many years;
Nights of joys and laughter, and days of trials and tears,
With piercing, draining sorrows that broke us on our knees,
While deep inside hide our regrets that no one ever sees. . .
How can comfort find us locked up in our darkest room?
How can we leave the past behind and escape it like a tomb?

A Small Indiscretion is eloquent and beautifully written. The reviewer concludes her review with some fitting words: "As if our pasts stay where they were created—and never follow us home."

The review on
Jan Ellison's website

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