I had Laurie Boris’ third novel – Don’t tell anyone – sitting on my Kindle for over a week before I started reading it. Why? Because of the elephant in the room called cancer.
Cancer is one of those taboo topics none of us want to think about, and I knew one of the characters in ‘Don’t tell anyone’, would have breast cancer.
My hesitation was further complicated by the fact that I’ve had my own brush with cancer. All my tests have been negative for over two and a half years, but it just so happened that I was waiting on the results of my latest tests last week, so…
I’m happy to say the test results were all negative, but even if they had not been, ‘Don’t tell anyone’ would have cheered me up!
I can see a lot of you re-reading that last sentence with puzzled expressions. Why would a book that talks about cancer cheer anyone up?
The answer, as they say in the classics, “is complicated”.
‘Don’t tell anyone’ is a character driven story that revolves around the relationships between Liza, a thirty-something woman, her husband Adam, her sixty-five year old Jewish mother-in-law, Estelle, and her gay brother-in-law Charlie.
All four characters are immensely likable, although I have to say that Charlie was my favourite, by far. He’s sexy, funny and lovable, all in one. He and Liza have been friends since college but there are things in their shared past that need to be resolved. In fact, resolving the past is key to the relationships in this family.
All of us have issues with family members. Most of those issues get swept under the carpet, year after year, because they are too hard to resolve without a huge fight, and the potential of destroying the family in the process. But when someone in your family is diagnosed with a life-threatening cancer, everything changes.
The discovery that Estelle has lumps in both breasts, and didn’t do anything about them for five years, turns the family dynamic on its head, undermining the comfortable assumptions they had all been living with for so long. In the process, long-held secrets are exposed, secrets like the fact that Estelle’s mother and grandmother, both died of breast cancer.
But while the discovery of Estelle’s cancer exposes some secrets, it also breeds new ones. How can Liza tell her husband that his mother wants to commit suicide rather than suffer the fate of her own mother and grandmother? Worse still, how can Liza reveal that Estelle has asked her to help with the suicide?
That particular secret eventually leads to a revelation which almost destroys Liza’s marriage. But not for the reason you might think. I can’t tell you any more because that would spoil some of the best parts of the story. What I can say, however, is that lancing all these boils leads to both growth, and resolution, and that is part of the reason I loved the story so very much.
I believe anyone reading ‘Don’t tell anyone’ will be able to relate to Liza, Adam and Charlie. However I, personally, related to Estelle the most, and her part of this finely crafted story was what cheered me. There is a rightness to Estelle’s life that touched me on so many levels, and that rightness permeates the story.
As a writer myself, I feel an enormous respect for Laurie Boris, and more than a little envy. Her understanding of the human psyche is exceptional, and her mastery of the craft of writing is flawless. It could not have been easy weaving all these complex characters and relationships into something that reads, and feels, so right, and yet she makes it look easy. I wish I could write like this, I truly do.
In my not-so-humble opinion, ‘Don’t tell anyone’ is a story that everyone should read. No ‘ifs’, ‘buts’ or ‘maybes’. Read it you lot, or miss out on a novel that is at least 6 stars out of 5.