Pocket, $12.00, ISBN 0-7434-7030-3
Contemporary Fiction, 2003
Rochelle Alers’s foray into mainstream fiction is like the script of the soap opera writer they booed out of town ten years ago. Character introspection and development is inexplicably absent. Secrets Never Told suffers from the author’s usual tendency to write Mary Sue heroines, and let’s just put this way: when the heroine is written as perfect, there’s really nowhere she can go in 320 pages other than down.
Morgana-Johnson Wells has had it with her perfect marriage when she stumbles upon her husband Franklin in bed with another woman. She returns to the home of her late mother to weep and lament about how her perfect life isn’t so perfect after all, and then she discovers her mother’s diary. This diary, told in italicized first person narration, is actually more like a silly overwrought tale of voodoo, adultery, and other bad B-grade TV movie stuff. While gasping and going “Oh Momma, that’s just so me!” at the arch and humorlessly overwrought prose of her late mother, Morgana also finds herself attracted to another perfect cardboard cutout, Erick Wilson. But her mother’s diary teaches her that everything bad that happens is actually everybody else’s fault so… well, let’s just say this book deliberately tries its best to distinguish itself as a “women’s fiction” by slapping in an ending that may or may not make readers expecting a typical romance novel howl in displeasure.
Actually, I did howl, but that’s because the author never makes her character develop or even learn. Morgana is perfect. Everyone in this book describes her physical beauty and inner courage ad nauseum, I wonder whether Rochelle Alers is so insecure in that she fears I will drop her book if she doesn’t remind me every two pages of the heroine’s shiny hair or perfect thighs or drop dead perky mammaries. Erick is so flat as the perfect foil, again with his physical beauty and oh-so-wonderful artistic talents described more meticulously than the author ever paid attention to her prose, sometimes it’s as if this book is more like a beauty pageant monologue than a decent story. But because this is a woman’s fiction thingie, the author then has Morgana doing something that will make sense if the author shows me how Morgana comes to this decision and why. As it is, the whole thing basically reeks of “Because Momma told me so; I may as well settle for second best!” nonsense.
I would love to go on about the flaws of this book, but that will really mean spoiling the whole book. Let me just say that if the author has spent more time on fleshing out her characters instead of using every word she can find under the thesaurus entry for “beautiful” and “perfect” to cram into her story, Secrets Never Told would be a winner. An editor should really sit the author down and tell her to stop writing as if she’s writing an article for YM magazine. As it is, this one is just a flat and lifeless half-baked melodrama that tries too hard to be women’s fiction.