NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE • With the emotional complexity of Everything I Never Told You and the psychological suspense of The Girl on the Train, O. Henry Prize winner Jan Ellison delivers a brilliantly paced, beautifully written debut novel about one woman’s reckoning with a youthful mistake.
“Part psychological thriller, part character study . . . I peeled back the pages of this book as fast as I could.”—The Huffington Post
At nineteen, Annie Black trades a bleak future in a washed-out California town for a London winter of drinking and abandon. Twenty years later, she is a San Francisco lighting designer and happily married mother of three who has put her reckless youth behind her. Then a photo from that distant winter in Europe arrives inexplicably in her mailbox, and an old obsession is awakened.
Past and present collide, Annie’s marriage falters, and her son takes a car ride that ends with his life hanging in the balance. Now Annie must confront her own transgressions and fight for her family by untangling the mysteries of the turbulent winter that drew an invisible map of her future. Gripping, insightful, and lyrical, A Small Indiscretion announces the arrival of a major new voice in literary suspense as it unfolds a story of denial, passion, forgiveness—and the redemptive power of love.
Praise for A Small Indiscretion
“Ellison is a tantalizing storyteller . . . moving her story forward with cinematic verve.”—USA Today
“Rich with suspense . . . Lovely writing guides us through, driven by a quiet generosity.”—San Francisco Chronicle (Book Club pick)
“Delicious, lazy-day reading. Just don’t underestimate the writing.”—O: The Oprah Magazine (Editor’s Pick)
“Rich and detailed . . . The plot explodes delightfully, with suspense and a few twists. Using second-person narration and hypnotic prose, Ellison’s debut novel is both juicy and beautifully written. How do I know it’s juicy? A stranger started reading it over my shoulder on the New York City subway, and told me he was sorry that I was turning the pages too quickly.”—Flavorwire
“Are those wild college days ever really behind you? Happily married Annie finds out.”—Cosmopolitan
“An impressive fiction debut . . . both a psychological mystery and a study of the divide between desire and duty.”—San Jose Mercury News
“A novel to tear through on a plane ride or on the beach . . . I was drawn into a web of secrets, a world of unrequited love and youthful mistakes that feel heightened and more romantic on the cold winter streets of London, Paris, and Ireland.”—Bustle
“Ellison renders the California landscape with stunning clarity. . . . She writes gracefully, with moments of startling insight. . . . Her first novel is an emotional thriller, skillfully plotted in taut, visual scenes.”—The Rumpus
“To read A Small Indiscretion is to eat fudge before dinner: slightly decadent behavior, highly caloric, and extremely satisfying. . . . An emotional detective story that . . . mirrors real life in ways that surprise and inspire.”—New York Journal of Books
“If you liked Gone Girl for its suspenseful look inside the psychology of a bad marriage, try A Small Indiscretion. . . . It touches many of the same nerves.”—StyleCaster
In this debut novel, Annie Black, married for two decades with three children, owns a quaint lighting shop in San Francisco for which she designs fashionable fixtures, and has hired a mysterious young woman who calls herself Emme. But someone sends Annie a photograph in the mail, taken during a wild year Annie spent in London many years ago, and so she returns there seeking to resolve old passions. The story opens with the news that Robbie, Annie's son, has been seriously injured in a car accident, and Emme, who was driving the car, has disappeared. The author then embarks on an overly coincidental story that strains the reader's suspension of disbelief. The book takes the form of a letter written by Annie to Robbie, although we don't know where Robbie is, or whether he's alive. Annie recounts that it was the year she turned 20 the year of Robbie's conception when she went to work for Malcolm Church, an older man in London with whom she had an affair. Annie also confesses to a passionate involvement with Malcolm's wife's lover, a handsome photographer named Patrick Ardghal, with whom Annie became obsessed, and finally how at the end of this sojourn she met Robbie's father, Jonathan. The book travels back and forth between Annie's memories of that year and the horrific present, in which, after the impulsive trip back to the U.K., her marriage is disintegrating and Robbie's life hangs in the balance. The book is a page-turner but the crazy connections are too orchestrated to be believable, and the epistolary format doesn't fit. Would a mother really tell her son all the sordid details of her sexual past, even if it did reveal something about his patrimony?
Lots of detail, lots of feeling and emotions, and lots of tell me more.
This is the story of Annie Black. This is her story of how one decision to go to London one youthful moment in time led to numerous other, what she thought were small, unimportant decisions. Years later, married to the man she fell in love with on that trip and a child's life in the balance, Annie must rethink, relive that time away from all she knew to hopefully rebuild her relationships with her husband and son.
A small indiscretion
A fabulous read. Cuts right to the bone.
choices made at 19 years of age are affecting her life now
Poignantly depicting the ramifications of ‘A Small Indiscretion’ on life many years later, Jan Ellison uses flashback retelling and current concerns to follow the life of Annie, and how she believes her choices made at 19 years of age are affecting her life now some 21 years later.
Annie, at 19, took $200 and headed out to find more, and every choice she made then have ostensibly led her to her present life in California, married with three children. But she is seeing some ‘crossovers’ between her choices and those her children are facing, and the arrival of an old photograph from her past spurs her to seek out answers and closure.
In the present, Annie’s life is reasonably successful and married to Jonathan, a doctor, with three children and a successful lighting fixtures store in San Francisco. She’s carefully put her past obsessions away, although the need for some closure does occasionally haunt. When comparing the newly arrived photo to her hatbox full of keepsakes, she realizes that there are some issues and events she had never ‘sorted’.
Told in a letter form to her son Marcus, this is Annie’s way of explaining her choices and actions, and her perception of their effect on her life at present. Raw and honest, Annie doesn’t hold back on her own culpability in questionable choices, but what emerges is a strongly developed picture of a woman who did what was needed, and often wanted, to get to her now.
While the format is a bit unusual, and plenty of switches from past to present, you are drawn in to the story, wanting to know or be Annie, even as you don’t want to live her experiences. With plenty of emotional turmoil to sort through, you are never quite sure what you think, only that you need to keep reading. The suspense comes in needing to know that things can work for Annie to find happiness, and you want that for her. Plenty of twists and some highly unexpected moments are liberally sprinkled through the story, few are foreshadowed and each one enriches the emotional impact of the story for Annie and readers alike.
A wonderful debut novel, full of lush prose and emotive description with characters that come to life and hold onto your thoughts long after the last page is turned.
I received an eArc copy of the title from the publisher via NetGalley for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.