I would have missed this short novel if it hadn’t been for the Introduction by Ann Patchett. She was in “the world’s smallest used book store” while on vacation when a friend pulled it out and made her read it. She loved it and that was good enough for me.
Old man on his deathbed in Ireland confesses his secret to his priest: His wife of 50 years is not really his wife. Before he can tell the entire story, he dies. The priest will not leave the wife alone until he has the whole story.
The story is that she is is sister. They had a bit of a Flowers in the Attic with an abusive father and ran away from home as young teenagers. Telling people they were married was easier than telling the truth and the rest was history.
As the lady tells the story – which included one sordid detail when the kids were locked in the frozen bedroom while daddy went on a bender – it feels like the priest is only interested in sordid details. So she catches him all the way up to when they came to live in their present town and the priest keeps pushing. She is shocked. There was only that one incident of “sin” other than the sin of omission in their true relationship. She is offended at his assumption that there is more and he leaves.
So the story is about judgment. And rushing to judgment. And Right vs. Wrong and who the Hell decides that, anyway?
The priest figures out that his “imagination” has done the greatest evil and seeks forgiveness.
So yeah. I was sort of assuming there would be more ugliness and drama. Rushing to judge a book, if you will. And boy was I wrong. The simplicity was the power of the story.