looking at the cover of this book, you might think, as i did, that this was going to be another domestic thriller/psych suspense-y kind of thing, but this is something entirely different. there is a mystery at the center of the story, but it takes a backseat to a more robust, multilayered character-driven story centered around motherhood, marriage, and the secretive inner lives and desires of women.
it’s the story of dolores (lore) rivera and cassie bowman; two women whose lives intersect when cassie—a true crime blogger with journalistic aspirations, discovers a juicy subject in lore—a woman whose secret polygamy was exposed decades earlier when one of her husbands was incarcerated for murdering the other.
people who lead double lives are inherently fascinating, and the first and most obvious question is always “how did they get away with it?” in lore’s case, the mechanics of how she managed to keep her marital-double-dipping a secret is the least interesting part, although the way she maintains the precarious jenga-balance of her secrets is fascinating to watch unfold:
She hasn’t yet told him an outright lie…and she doesn’t want to start. Once she does, she sees how the lies will build, brick after brick into a fortress designed to protect, but protection means separation, means they will never be as close as he thinks or she wants, and one mistake, one misremembered detail, will be enough to take down the whole thing, burying them both beneath its rubble.
the real hook here is the novelty of a woman carrying on two separate lives, because the world is a little less forgiving towards women—towards mothers—trying to have it all:
Sometimes it still shocked me, the way Lore didn’t seem to see what she’d done as unforgivable in the eyes of those she’d hurt. How did she learn to judge herself so gently in a world that taught women to nail themselves to the cross for any tiny infraction?
i know, right?
lore eventually agrees to be interviewed by cassie, against the wishes of her family, with the stipulation that she won’t talk about the night of andres’ murder. lore’s story unfolds in a series of flashbacks of her past and what drove her to risk her happy life in texas with fabian and their twin sons gabriel and mateo by marrying andres in mexico.
during the course of these interviews, lore and cassie’s relationship develops into a familiar quid pro quo dynamic; lore becoming a sort of lady-lechter forcing cassie to excavate and take a hard look at the shame she’s been marinating in over the secrets of her own past—her alcoholic father, the death of her mother, and the brother she left behind—and both women are profoundly affected by the emotional clarity that comes from revisiting their life’s most painful choices.
lore proves to be a somewhat unreliable narrator, giving cassie a version of the truth while holding on to some of her secrets. however, cassie is a highly motivated amateur sleuth, hoping this story will kickstart her journalistic career, and once she susses out the whole truth behind andres’ death, she is faced with a difficult choice that makes her reevaluate her own long-held beliefs about her chosen profession.
When it’s done right, true crime tells us who we are, who we should fear, who we are always in danger of becoming. Under a careful investigative eye, someone opaque briefly becomes transparent. Even if what’s revealed is ugly, it’s true. And nothing is more beautiful than the truth.
like so many books seem to be nowadays, the reader (and cassie) are invited to consider the sticky nature of our fixation with true crime as entertainment, commodifying other people’s secrets and blanketing epicaricacy-nosiness under the noble banner of truth.
and there’s the looming “there-but-for-the” of:
…someone who had killed under a set of specific circumstances. And couldn’t that be true for most of us? If true crime had taught me anything, it’s that if we never see that version of ourselves, it’s only because we’re lucky.
so it’s basically two excellent character-studies smooshed together in a story of sacrifice and secrets, perspective and the justification for tiptoeing that fine line between selfishness and self-preservation.
lore is a deliciously complex paradox of a character—she loved her family, but felt that, given a different set of circumstances, she could have become a different kind of woman—she needed two separate lives to become the best version of herself. lore’s was an extreme, unconventional form of personal growth—happy with her life, but inquiring what else what else
…it wasn’t the recession or loneliness that brought her here. It wasn’t that she no longer loved Fabian or wanted their marriage to end. It was a different kind of yearning. A nameless suspicion that there was more to herself than she’d ever accessed, and only by falling in love could she discover it, for only then do we become new to ourselves again.
instead of getting a room of her own she got a whole ‘nother husband, and she felt she became a fuller person enriched by both of her lives.
…perhaps not every affair is about lack in the primary relationship; perhaps some are about a complement. Perhaps multiple relationships can illuminate different parts of the self, like a prism turned first this way, then that, toward the light. Perhaps to love and allow love from only one person at a time is to trap the self into a single, frozen version, and it’s this that makes us look elsewhere.
however, there’s always a price of a woman knowing herself, of wanting more than she has, and in her case, it was ruinous to both of her lives.
Lore had never been blameless to me. That was the point. She was so hungry to know her own heart she was willing to destroy those she loved most, including—paradoxically—her children.
this is a perfect summertime book—a richly descriptive slow-burning page-turner that delivers more to consider than the average suspense-genre novel. lore is a beautifully flawed character and cassie is a fine counterpoint to her larger-than-life personality. it is a spectacular debut full of deft insights that doesn’t skimp on the rough fallout of domino-consequences.
i’ll let lore play this review out with her musings on the cost of motherhood to a woman’s sense of self:
Now the idea of more children is unthinkable. Lore lost herself in those early years with Gabriel and Mateo. If you’d asked her then what her favorite meal was, her favorite movie, her favorite hobby, she wouldn’t have known. It was as if Lore—the person, the woman—had disappeared, consumed by Lore the mother. The idea of taking maternity leave again, molding her life around a baby’s insatiable need while also making sure the cuates were fed and clean, their homework done, chauffeured on time to school and sports—and the house livable, groceries bought, bills paid, her marriage nurtured: quicksand. By the time she clawed her way out, she wouldn’t recognize herself.
Motherhood is the thief you invite into your home.