The book begins with a seemingly benign reference to Pandora’s jar, (not box, as commonly believed). The idea is dropped almost immediately and is not resurrected again until the last sentence. Yet, the idea pervades the novel. Three families are impacted by secrets, clandestine relationships, and tragedies or traumatic events of one kind or another. Their stories are gracefully knitted together.
Cecelia Fitzpatrick, comes upon a letter while searching in the attic for a piece of the Berlin Wall for her daughter Polly, the youngest of her three daughters. It is addressed to her by her husband, Will, in the event of his death. When she tells him about it, he pleads with her not to open it. He returns to Australia from America three days early, piquing her curiosity. When she awakens and hears him searching the attic, she knows she must read that letter. She believes he might have been confessing something, perhaps an affair.
Tess O”Leary is married to Will. They have one child, Liam, and they are a very tight knit family which includes her cousin Felicity who is a very integral part of that whole. She shares their lives entirely. Tess, Felicity and Will are involved in a start-up marketing business. Tess and Felicity are like sisters. Felicity, however, once obese, is now quite thin and beautiful. One day, Tess’s husband and her cousin approach her and ask her to hear their confession.
Rachel is Janie’s mother. Janie was murdered and the case was never solved. Her grief has crowded everything else out of her life. Although Rachel believes she knows who the murderer is, and has been harboring her hate toward him for thirty years, the police do not agree. She wants a confession from Connor, the man she believes had killed her child.
In the end, each character, major and minor has his/her own secret and confession, of sorts, to acknowledge. Each one’s secrets will have repercussions on their lives that will require some kind of response or reaction that they will be forced to bear. Still, many of the secrets surrounding them would remain in Pandora’s jar until the end of time. The most confounding secrets of all will never be exposed, and yet, the consequences of Janie’s death were far reaching. It is impossible to ever know what might have been if Janie had not died, how might all of their lives have differed.
The story is about false assumptions and misperceptions which lead to equally false conclusions that we often act upon, impetuously, with dreadful consequences. Our superficial perception of people, i.e., men who are bald vs men who are losing their hair or blessed with a gorgeous mane of hair, impacts the way we see and judge them. People see what they want and believe that they are seeing things that might not actually be there. Eyes are a theme throughout the story; eyes and what they represent, reappear in the narrative. The eyes of these characters saw things through jaded eyes, confused eyes. They were used to describe their character. Janie said Jean Paul had beautiful eyes. Felicity, even when fat, had beautiful green, almond eyes. The sheriff and other moms and Rachel, think that Connor had evil eyes, gray serious eyes, that had hidden secrets behind them. Jean Paul cries, therefore, his eyes leak.
The story is about the need for ultimate justice. It is about pride that forces us to do what we think is right even when we might be wrong. It is about the danger of keeping secrets and the reasons that secrets are kept in the first place. They are usually, after all, kept to hide reprehensible behavior or behavior we are ashamed of and want to keep private. It is about man’s ultimate cruelty towards those we don’t find measuring up to our own particular standards, and how we use them to make our own lives seem more palatable. It is about the moments we have all experienced, when anger rules our common sense, and if unchecked, can simply go too far. It is about the need for vengeance to close up the wounds that never heal and the bitterness and emotional disaster that follows. All of the characters will have to come to terms with their grief and guilt, one way or another. All of their actions have impacted someone else because of their thoughtlessness, even when they thought they were being solicitous. Can they be forgiven for these sins, intentional or otherwise?
Even though the book deals with some pretty heavy subjects, it is also written with a touch of humor, not laugh out loud humor, but it is certainly the chuckling kind, and these moments of tongue in cheek expressions make it easier to read.