Title: After The Fire
Author: Belva Plain
Pub Date: 2000, Delacorte Press
Hardcover, 291 pages
What happens when the picture-perfect marriage dissolves?
Gerald and Hyacinth had the kind of marriage others envied. She was a beautiful artist. He was a brilliant plastic surgeon. Theirs was a comfortable, happy home with two wonderful children. Then whispers of betrayal tainted Hy's perfect marriage. And in one terrible night she commits an act she will regret for the rest of her life. An act that gives Gerald the ultimate weapon: blackmail.
The price of his silence is uncontested custody of their two children. When her own beautiful, angry mother wants to know why she won't fight for custody, Hy can give no answers. But deep in her heart, Hy knows there is one question she must answer if she wants to free herself from a life of lies: What really happened that terrible night? Only then can she reclaim her children, her pride, her life—at last.
I had never even heard of Belva Plain when I saw this novel for sale at our library, but I thought the synopsis was intriguing and boy was I right. And I've since learned that several of you have read and loved Plain's books, and if they are all like this one I can understand why.
Where to begin? The characters were wonderful--full of real life emotion and actions and often complex. The writing was also well done--admittedly the story started off a bit slow for me, but that is because the real drama of the story was yet to come. Once things really got dicey, it was tough to put this book down (though sadly I had to a few times with everything going on for the holiday weekend). In some ways, the story is part mystery, though mainly it is about a woman, Hyacinth, who is coping with a nasty divorce, limited time with her own children, and an inability to really trust people and sometimes even be around them. She lives in daily fear that her ex-husband will expose a secret that she can hardly believe even happened. Eventually another man comes into her life, but as much as she loves him, her inability to trust him and disclose what has happened in her past ultimately comes between them. Of course, there is her ex-husband's partner, Arnie, who we know is in love with her throughout the entire story, though she doesn't feel that she can reciprocate those feelings. Do you see how the story quickly becomes complicated and heart-wrenching at times? Oh, and as for that ex-husband, Gerald... boy do you love to hate him, or at least I did. A more condescending, unreasonable, unfaithful jerk you'll be hard-pressed to find, though he tries so hard to cover it all up with his "charm."
When the truth about that tragic secret was finally revealed, I have to admit I was pretty surprised. I suppose I ought to have seen it coming, but I think that in many ways I am as naive as our protagonist, Hyacinth. Plain really did a brilliant job weaving an incredible story that at times seems almost unbelievable, though in reality stranger things have happened. It is rewarding to see Hyacinth's life start to turn around, though her road is certainly bumpy as she tries to move on from what has happened to her.
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