Can You Keep A Secret?
Random House AUS
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
In 1999, American Lachlan Colbert known as Colby and his friends are making a trip Down Under for the new year. They’re spending up big in far north Queensland, booking a luxury cruiser and Caitlin is hired to serve the drinks and cook the food. Colby comes back to visit, enjoying the simplicity of life with Caitlin, drinking beer and eating fish and chips on the beach. In September 2001, he flies Caitlin to America to show her his life in Manhattan.
Caitlin is only buildings away from the World Trade Center when the planes bring them down. Crippled with anxiety and a fear of flying, she remains in America and she and Colby marry and move to a less crowded part of New York. They begin trying for a child but after a miscarriage, Caitlin turns to adoption, looking into adopting a baby from Russia. She begins a blog, chronicling their journey going forward with it.
Their life seems idyllic – Colby works long hours but makes the money and his beautiful blonde Australian wife takes an interest in interior design, renovating and furnishing their home. But behind the facade, things are never as perfect as they seem.
I’m not sure I have ever read a book that left me feeling so conflicted before when it comes to both rating it and articulating my thoughts about it. I have read all of Caroline Overington’s previous fiction books and I’m a big fan. I think I’ve rated them all 8 or 9 out of 10 and I love the way she tells a story and digs into an issue. And for the most part, I was rather enjoying this book. The first part seemed a bit long, then it switches viewpoints and most of the rest of the story is told solely through Caitlin’s blog entries after she and Colby begin to look into adoption. I had the first inklings of unease throughout this section, like perhaps the way this panned out wasn’t going to pay off as well as I thought it would but even I was unprepared by how disappointed I was when the twist was revealed at the end of the book.
Colby and Caitlin are basically opposites – she was raised in poverty on Magnetic Island and she left home as soon as she legally could without being dragged back there by government social departments. She works at a “skimpy” bar in Townsville when she is approached by a local man she knows well who asks her to help out with a charter for a week. By contrast, Colby is wealthy. He works in market or stock trading and his company has its offices in the North Tower of the WTC. He’s used to privilege and the finer things in life and Caitlin is a refreshing change with her denim cut offs, natural tan and hair bleached blonde by the sun. She’s led a sheltered life in some aspects, in terms of travel and experience but in other ways, she’s probably more independent than Colby. She’s had to take care of herself from a very young age and not only herself but also support her mother as well, who has a serious illness and will soon need assisted living.
The courtship between Colby and Caitlin is unusual and it’s something you’d expect to die a natural death when Colby returns to New York. However he makes another visit and later on, flies Caitlin over to New York which means that she’s there when 9/11 takes place. Given that later on, the reader discovers what an unreliable narrator Caitlin is, now that I’ve finished the book I have to wonder about the validity of her anxiety and fear. I mean, it would obviously be very natural to fear flying after 9/11 and it would be something that you’d have to work to get over. But Caitlin’s found herself in Colby’s luxurious bachelor pad in New York living a life that’s far from her existence in Queensland working in a bar. I do think that there’s little doubt she sees opportunity in remaining “trapped” in America, unable to fly home to Australia. Even their marriage comes about in an unconventional way, a snap reaction from Colby to criticism from his mother.
Although the blog entries were in some way, my favourite part of the book they were also somehow the part where it all began to come apart for me. And I know how weird that sounds. As much as I was actually quite enjoying that section of the book, there was always something (well a lot of things) that didn’t quite ring true for me and it made me rather skeptical. I kept wondering what the secret in the title was and playing out various scenarios in my head but in the end, what it actually was didn’t deliver the shock I was expecting. It was almost like a “hmm, of course that’s it”. The fact that the second half is all entirely Caitlin’s blog post point of view means that a vital part of the story is missing until the end and it’s told so quickly, that there’s no real justice to it. Colby’s opinion and thoughts on what is going on are actually rather important and by the time we get them, it comes across as kind of flippant. I suppose he’s at his wits end or something but the reader has not been with him for the past year, or whatever it is. We haven’t had anything from his point of view, nothing about his state of mind or his feelings and what he’s attempted. It felt like a really large part of the story was missing and hearing it retrospectively isn’t the same.
I wish I could rate this book in sections – each part would receive a different mark. The beginning was okay, readable but nothing super exciting, the stuff when Caitlin went to New York much more so and the blog entries were disturbing and unsettling and began to change my thoughts. I’m going to have to go middle of the road, because I did like most of it but the end altered everything.
Can You Keep A Secret? is book #85 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014