Nicole Melanson ~
Truths I Never Told You by Kelly Rimmer is an “issues” novel sure to find a welcome slot in book clubs. An exploration of the incredible expectations placed on mothers regardless of individual circumstances or wishes, this book is a deep dive into post-natal depression. Taking both genetic factors and societal pressures into account, Truths I Never Told You questions how much a woman’s health is worth in relation to her role fulfilling the needs of others.
Readers who remember HBO’s If These Walls Could Talk series will find echoes here as Rimmer weaves between two very different time periods concerning women’s rights. In 1959, we have Grace, a young mother to four children under four, slowly losing herself in a dark cloud of exhaustion and despair. In 1996, Beth is the quintessential “sandwich generation” woman, helping her father Patrick transition into aged care as his dementia takes over, whilst struggling to connect with the infant son she desperately wanted prior to his actual arrival.
As Beth begins sorting through her father’s belongings, she finds a series of notes suggesting her mother didn’t die in a car accident after all but may have fallen victim to a much darker fate. This is where the storylines intertwine, with Beth beginning to see a link between her own experience and that of her mother. She fends off outside pressures from her husband and siblings in a race to make sense of her family’s past before history repeats itself.
There’s a bit of a shift halfway through Truths I Never Told You. To call the changes “twists” is too strong a word as this isn’t a thriller or even much of a mystery, but the novel does move in a slightly different direction than I anticipated and I enjoyed where it went. A new character, Maryanne, represents a more familiar, modern sensibility, with a really strong character arc that feels surprising but believable.
Another character who experiences a significant transformation is Beth’s father, Patrick. The change is arguably extreme, but I did really like both of Patrick’s personas—particularly older Patrick as he descends into dementia. Rimmer does a great job using truncated and muddled-up speech to convey the deterioration of cognitive function, and I found the farther this older Patrick got from conventional speech patterns, the more complex and nuanced his voice became.
I would have liked to see more of a disconnect between the other characters’ emotions and their interior monologues—they are all very self-aware and articulate eg. “Ruth and I have always been close and I love her more than just about anyone. At the moment, though, there’s something about her too-perfect life that grates on me. It’s possible that I’ve been avoiding her a little lately…but I really need help today and Ruth has access to the resources I need.” As far as introspection goes, this suits Beth, a professional therapist, but when every other character is equally cerebral, it feels a little jarring.
I also questioned the credibility of Beth’s entire family identifying her mental health issues and pushing her to seek treatment in a compassionate, sensitive fashion. I found it unrealistic that not only was Beth married to Husband-of-the-Year with an unfailingly supportive mother-in-law, she also had three adult siblings who, despite dealing with their dying father, property disputes, marital discord, career concerns etc. were able to 1) recognize Beth’s suffering and 2) jump wholeheartedly into shepherding her towards care. A part of me wondered what Beth could do if she didn’t have such an extensive network of resources but did have the present-day context.