The Secret Stones
by Dee Holmes, contemporary (2001)
Jove, $6.99, ISBN 0-425-17924-9


The eardrum-shattering scream you hear is from me. Among the more printable cussing is "Stupid, stupid, stupid, how can the author be this BLOODY STUPID?!!!" repeated again and again in a mantra of fury as I whack and pummel away at the punching bag. How can Dee Holmes do this to me?

I'm sorry. I may have crossed the line here, but there is nothing like a beautiful book that I actually connect to and relate to, that draws me so deep into the characters' lives, only to give me the finger in an ending that just blows in its stupidity.

Anyway, I better put a warning here first. I am not giving away the Big Revelation directly in this review, but anybody who reads carefully can probably piece the puzzle together. So if you don't want to scream like I did, skip this now. I'll just tell you that until that STOOPID Big Revelation, The Secret Stones is just beautiful, with a capital B.

Mattie Caufield's life is shattered when her daughter Jessica is involved in a car crash and slips into a coma. Bad enough to find that her daughter has been drinking and driving (killing the other girl by her side), but Jessica is also pregnant at the time of her crash. What is going on? Mattie can't rest until she finds out why her sweet lil' daughter has this secret life hidden away.

Meanwhile, Hannah, the younger daughter, is undergoing the usual teenage angst blues, intensified by her blaming Mattie for Mattie and her ex Stephen's divorce. She is also flirting with the same seedy fast sex life that may or may not have ruined her sister.

Also, Mattie is slowly starting a relationship with Wyatt Landry, a Mr Nice Guy who feels threatened by Stephen. A particularly nasty wedge in their relationship is the fact that Kevin, Wyatt's nephew, was dating Jessica before she had the accident, and Kevin might be the father. Kevin, however, denies it and Mattie and Wyatt start staring daggers at each other.

Like Dee Holmes' previous Jove book, The Caleb Trees, this story is very heroine-driven. Wyatt is so light a presence that he may as well be the china teapot in Mattie's house for all the significant screen time he has in this story. Indeed, this is more women's fiction than straightforward romance, focusing more on Mattie's attempts to hold her daughters together and keep them in good terms with Stephen even as she tries to create her own life. The author carefully weaves enough emotional complexity in Hannah and Mattie that it is never easy to follow their emotional turbulences. That's because it's all so real. Even Stephen is a complex character, not a clearcut caricature of an evil ex. For a while.

Then Jessica wakes up. And the bombshell drops. And this is also where I fling the book hard across the room. The Big Revelation is one that I have an uneasy suspicion that the author may use to provide easy and convenient resolutions. I hope she wouldn't use that device, I pray she wouldn't, and ta-da! Ms Holmes has to use it. All the complicated characterization she set up in the last 250 pages is blown away in this dumb, uncharacteristic, tawdry, reprehensible non-finale that plunges this story from Beautiful Drama to Mediocre Waste Of Kleenex. How insulting! After all the complicated daughter-mother-ex-new-man dynamics she weaved, she decides that it is easier to cop out and blame everything on the most convenient target. So complex problems, one stupid simple solution. I have never been so insulted with a cop-out before.

I'll say it again. Stupid, stupid, stupid. I'm tempted to give this book a 20 just out of spite. I am angry. I am infuriated. Beyond infuriated - I am fit to kill after I finish this book. It is so cruel: I feel used and manipulated, my emotions strung, hung out, and washed dry only to be slapped in the face with a no-brainer dumb cop-out.

But to be fair, The Secret Stones is mostly poetry in emotion. Sigh. Stupid, stupid, stupid indeed.

Rating: 82


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