The Secrets She Carried. Barbara Davis. Penguin Group (USA). October 2013. 384 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 978045141877.
Leslie Nichols ran away to New York City years ago but now she’s returned to Peak Plantation in North Carolina to discover that she’s been left half of the plantation by her grandmother, Maggie. She’s not pleased when she discovers a stranger, Jay Davenport, was left the other half. When they first meet, their conversation flounders into the drastic opposite of warm and fuzzy; it gets even worse when Leslie realizes Jay resents her long absence and resents her arriving to quash the plans he had for beginning a winery on the property. It was Jay who Maggie had confided in for years, even her hope that Leslie would return to where she belonged on the plantation. Jay is suspicious about why Leslie left but really doesn’t have a clue to the real reasons that haunt her to this day.
Several surprises surface during this story of these two stubborn, ornery creatures getting to know each other better and even more. It turns out Jay has his own share of secrets that made him quit using his very popular talent and left him riddled with profound pain. When Leslie begins to realize this, she begins to cool down and make room for both of them to let go of the past and move forward. But the road will be difficult and fraught with brash and soft words.
Leslie begins to clean out her grandmother’s home and is struck by some jewels she found and some paintings of her grandfather that have an uncanny resemblance in the main figure that is powerful beyond the obvious sexiness of the works. There’s also a story to be told about Henry Gavin’s wife and Henry’s lover, a lady’s maid named Adele Laveau. It goes far beyond the alcoholic and drug addict that Susanne Gavin has become, far beyond the multiple pregnancies she’s lost, and far beyond her inability to make Henry truly love her. One doesn’t quite know whether to hate or to pity her, probably a huge mixture of both. But there’s a mystery surrounding the death of Adele and the silence of Susanne, Maggie, Henry and even the folks in town.
To add to the drama, Leslie’s father, Jimmy, shows up, having finished his prison sentence. But as unwelcome as he is, Jimmy needs Leslie to forgive him and offer him a chance.
No one is beyond forgiveness; it surfaces in so many different ways. As it is so tritely but truthfully said so often, one can run but can’t hide from the past. This is the story of a journey of healing with intrigue, humor, mystery, secrets, romance and hope. While it starts out fairly slowly, it quickly picks up and the reader won’t be able to stop reading. Be prepared for some late nights reading, with some take-out dinners and less sleep than customary. Barbara Davis has written a poignant, enigmatic, and loving novel that will delight all who relish a great story. Well-crafted and exciting work of contemporary fiction!