Cover image for A small indiscretion : a novel
Title:
A small indiscretion : a novel
Author:
Ellison, Jan.
Personal Author:
Edition:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Random House, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, [2014]
Physical Description:
323 pages ; 25 cm
Summary:
"At nineteen, Annie Black trades a bleak future in her washed-out hometown for a London winter of drinking to oblivion and yearning for deliverance. Some two decades later, she is married to a good man and settled in San Francisco, with a son and two daughters and a successful career designing artistic interior lights. One June morning, a photograph arrives in her mailbox, igniting an old longing and setting off a chain of events that [rocks] the foundations of her marriage and [threatens] to overturn her family's hard-won happiness"--Dust jacket flap.
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780812995442
Format :
Book

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Summary

Summary

For readers of Meg Wolitzer, Elizabeth Strout, and Anna Quindlen, A Small Indiscretion is a gripping and ultimately redemptive novel of love and its dangers, marriage and its secrets, youth and its treacherous mistakes.
 
A Small Indiscretion fixes an unflinching eye on the power of desire and the danger of obsession as it unfolds the story of one woman's reckoning with a youthful mistake.
 
At nineteen, Annie Black trades a bleak future in her washed-out hometown for a London winter of drinking to oblivion and yearning for deliverance. Some two decades later, she is married to a good man and settled in San Francisco, with a son and two daughters and a successful career designing artistic interior lights. One June morning, a photograph arrives in her mailbox, igniting an old longing and setting off a chain of events that rock the foundations of her marriage and threaten to overturn her family's hard-won happiness.
 
The novel moves back and forth across time between San Francisco in the present and that distant winter in Europe. The two worlds converge and explode when the adult Annie returns to London seeking answers, her indiscretions come to light, and the phone rings with shocking news about her son. Now Annie must fight to save her family by piecing together the mystery of her past--the fateful collision of liberation and abandon and sexual desire that drew an invisible map of her future.
 
A Small Indiscretion is a riveting debut novel about a woman's search for understanding and forgiveness, a taut exploration of a modern marriage, and of love--the kind that destroys, and the kind that redeems.

Advance praise for A Small Indiscretion

"An engrossing, believable, gracefully written family drama that reveals our past's bare-knuckle grip on our present." --Emma Donoghue, New York Times bestselling author of Room
 
"A stunning debut by Jan Ellison . . . Like the photograph that arrives in the mail and sets in motion the plot of this gorgeous novel, A Small Indiscretion reminds us of the intensity of youthful desire and of the fragile nature of a marriage built on secrecy." --Ann Packer, New York Times bestselling author of The Dive from Clausen's Pier
 
"It might be convenient if our mistakes would fade with time rather than hunt us down complete with consequence, but that wouldn't make for the kind of taut, hypnotic story Jan Ellison tells. The impact of narrator Annie Black's 'small' indiscretion is anything but, and in a brilliantly paced unraveling, Ellison makes vivid the sometimes tragic interplay of choice and fate, lust and love, youth and adulthood--which can bring its own mistakes. Absorbing, chilling, and moving, A Small Indiscretion is the debut of an elegant writer who will be known and admired from the start." --Robin Black, author of Life Drawing

"An emotional thriller of the Anita Shreve variety, with revelations that continue and relationships that evolve until the final pages . . . Connoisseurs of domestic suspense will finish this book in a few breathless sittings, then wait eagerly for Ellison's next trick." --Kirkus Reviews
 
"[A] cleverly constructed debut . . . a deftly crafted, absorbing novel that peels back the layers of Annie's character as it reveals the secrets of her past and present." -- Booklist


Author Notes

Jan Ellison graduated from Stanford University and San Francisco State University's MFA Program. She has published short fiction and received the 2007 O. Henry Prize for her first story to appear in print. Her first novel, A Small Indiscretion, was published in 2015.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 3

Booklist Review

At the outset of this cleverly constructed debut, the reader knows several facts, the first being that Annie Black's 20-year-old son, Robbie, has been in a serious car accident. As Robbie lies in a coma, Annie reflects back on her past, specifically her experience in London two decades prior, when she worked as a secretary for an engineer named Malcolm, who was besotted with her. And yet it was Malcolm's wife's much younger lover, a charismatic photographer named Patrick, who caught Annie's eye and ultimately relieved her of her virginity. This unusual love rhombus sets off a chain of events that reverberates into Annie's present when she receives a copy of a photo taken of the foursome on a fateful holiday excursion those many years ago. Ellison parcels out details carefully, and even though readers might anticipate one revelation, there is at least one other that will take them by surprise. A deftly crafted, absorbing novel that peels back the layers of Annie's character as it reveals the secrets of her past and present.--Huntley, Kristine Copyright 2014 Booklist


Publisher's Weekly Review

In this debut novel, Annie Black, married for two decades with three children, owns a quaint lighting shop in San Francisco for which she designs fashionable fixtures, and has hired a mysterious young woman who calls herself Emme. But someone sends Annie a photograph in the mail, taken during a wild year Annie spent in London many years ago, and so she returns there seeking to resolve old passions. The story opens with the news that Robbie, Annie's son, has been seriously injured in a car accident, and Emme, who was driving the car, has disappeared. The author then embarks on an overly coincidental story that strains the reader's suspension of disbelief. The book takes the form of a letter written by Annie to Robbie, although we don't know where Robbie is, or whether he's alive. Annie recounts that it was the year she turned 20-the year of Robbie's conception-when she went to work for Malcolm Church, an older man in London with whom she had an affair. Annie also confesses to a passionate involvement with Malcolm's wife's lover, a handsome photographer named Patrick Ardghal, with whom Annie became obsessed, and finally how at the end of this sojourn she met Robbie's father, Jonathan. The book travels back and forth between Annie's memories of that year and the horrific present, in which, after the impulsive trip back to the U.K., her marriage is disintegrating and Robbie's life hangs in the balance. The book is a page-turner but the crazy connections are too orchestrated to be believable, and the epistolary format doesn't fit. Would a mother really tell her son all the sordid details of her sexual past, even if it did reveal something about his patrimony? (Jan.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Library Journal Review

Lighting designer Annie Black was 19 when she took leave from her studies at community college to embark on a work-study program in London. She quickly landed an office job working for a married structural designer and was soon in over her head with reckless romantic entanglements and alcohol consumption. Two decades later, Annie is settled into a comfortable life with her husband and their three children when a photo from her London sojourn arrives in her mailbox. Long-buried but unresolved feelings rise to the surface, causing our protagonist to jeopardize her happiness and that of her family, and Annie's "small indiscretion" is anything but. This debut novel by award-winning short story writer Ellison takes readers on an eloquently detailed roller-coaster ride that is both exhilarating and stomach flipping. The author's prose repeatedly catapults readers from the present to the past by employing a second-person point of view that is often difficult to follow. Hence, the novel is essentially a 300-plus-page letter from Annie to her college-age son, Robbie, which is a bit icky considering she writes about her various sexual encounters. VERDICT Part romance novel, part coming-of-age story, and part family drama, this somber book about a perpetually flawed woman is a challenging and thought-provoking read. [See Prepub Alert, 7/14/14.]-Samantha Gust, Niagara Univ. Lib., NY (c) Copyright 2015. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

One It's not always wise to assume that just because the surface of the world appears undisturbed, life is where you left it. Monday morning, September 5, 2011. Twenty minutes after eight. I was doing the breakfast dishes when the phone rang. I wiped one hand on a dishcloth and picked up on the second ring. I spoke a quiet hello. You were sleeping directly upstairs in your sister's room, and after the commotion of the night before, I didn't want the noise to wake you. There was static on the line. I was about to launch into my "national-­do-­not-­call-­list" speech when a stranger spoke your name. "Are you related to a Robert Jonathan Gunnlaugsson?" "Yes," I said, "Robbie's my son." There was a brief silence, into which I said what I believed--­that you were still asleep. You couldn't come to the phone. I heard voices in the background, then a contusion of words--­automobile accident, broken rib cage, possible brain injury, blunt renal trauma. I began to shake. I called for your father. I thrust the phone at him as if it were burning my hand. He grabbed a pencil and pad off the kitchen counter and made a few notes. "Get a helicopter to take him to the trauma center at Stanford," he barked into the phone. "We'll be there in an hour." I ran upstairs. Part of me was certain I would find you where I'd left you, on top of Polly's bed, her decorative pillow, shaped like a ballet shoe, still cradling your head. I flung open the door to her room. I stepped toward the bed. But you weren't in it. Your truck was in the driveway, Robbie, but you were nowhere in the house. We learned later that you'd been riding in the passenger seat of an old Volvo sedan when it flipped just north of Santa Cruz and expelled you into a ravine. The driver's seat belt had held, but yours had not. Jonathan and I battled our way through the San Francisco traffic and sped thirty miles south on the highway, out of the fog and into the sunlight. We reached the peninsula and took the off-­ramp and argued over the route in voices clipped with panic. We made our way through that alien topography--­the university, with its low, wide sandstone buildings and flat expanses of sky and lawn, the shopping center, with its vats of flowers and its acres of parking lot, the hospital inside its immaculate suburbia--­that sunlit peninsula pressed between the green bay and a bank of hills the color of straw that five months later your father would begin to call home. We drove up the hospital's main drive and circled the extravagant brick fountain, an oasis of shaped trees growing in its center. I was the one who'd counted your drinks the night before. I was the one who'd somehow incited a riot, then, in the aftermath, set about making sure my three children were safe for the night under the same roof. I was the one who'd moved a sleeping Polly in with Clara so you could have Polly's bed. If I had not made you stay, if I had not altered that sliver of fate, if I had not plucked that single wing from that single butterfly, you wouldn't have ended up in that car. You'd have said your goodbyes and driven across the Bay Bridge to Berkeley and fallen into bed and slept until noon. You'd have returned to the lab a day later to carry on with your investigations in particle physics, along with the pursuit of other elusive truths. At the main entrance to the hospital were two dogs--­eyes half closed, chins flat on the ground in a posture of patient defeat. That was the attitude to avoid. The task at hand--­my task--­was not to wait patiently but to act. To undo the twist of fate. To be vigilant and merciless in advocating for your medical care. To accept nothing less than a full recovery. To ask every question. To overturn every stone. Did I suspect, that first morning, that there were some stones better left buried in the dust? That I might wish for the results of certain biological interrogations to be kept hidden, not only from you and from your father, but from myself? I don't think I did. Denial, as any addict in recovery will tell you, is not defined as knowing something and pretending you don't; it is failing to see it at all. There was no parking at the hospital that morning. Up and around we went, three, four, five levels, then down again, your father taking the corners hard and fast. When we ascended and emerged a second time onto the top level and into the onslaught of the September sun, a car just ahead of us was pulling out of its spot. Jonathan kept his foot on the brake and undid his seat belt and reached into the back for his jacket and his wallet. I dug in my purse for my sunglasses. In that momentary lapse, a car angled into the spot from the other direction. "What the fuck," your father said. He thrust the car into neutral and leapt out. He was not so different from when I'd met him. He was as wind­blown and rugged, as blue-­eyed and broad-­shouldered and good-­looking as he had always been. He still had a full head of dirty-­blond hair that made him seem younger than forty-seven, as did his calm, positive, compact energy, his effortless refusal to bend to the mood of the day. So it was shocking to watch him now, storming toward the offending vehicle like an animal protecting its young--­vicious, and angry, and so unlike himself, but in a way, beautiful. He stood up close to the driver's side window and the car door opened a crack, whacking his shin. A leg reached toward the ground. Your father could not see the leg, since he was almost on top of it, but I could see that it was thick and squat and encased in knee-­high nylons, the ankles swollen with fluid, the calves mottled with varicose veins. The shoes were flat and white with rubber soles. The foot, and the leg, were attached to a woman to whom your father said, "My son was airlifted here, and this is my fucking parking spot." The woman hauled herself out of the front seat. Her face wrinkled with the effort and her small, old eyes leaked and blinked in the sun. Your father took a step back. He stood for a moment, shoved his hands in his pockets, and crossed the parking lot toward me, the rage fading and his face becoming again the mask it had been since I'd returned from London and, three days before, made my foolish confession--­a mask I no longer had a right to question or remove. We exited the structure and pulled into a handicapped spot in front of the emergency room entrance and ran. I held my sunglasses in my left hand and clutched my purse with my right. I had forgotten my sweater. Your father flung his windbreaker over his shoulder and the zipper stung my cheek, the beginnings of retribution, perhaps, for a past that had long ago laid down the invisible blueprint of our future. *** When we returned to the car at midnight, there was a ticket tucked under the windshield wiper. "Two hundred and seventy dollars," Jonathan said. He didn't tear the ticket up but dropped it on the ground and crushed it beneath his foot, the way he might have snubbed out a cigarette. By then, a serious traumatic brain injury had been ruled out. But you had a concussion, a punctured lung, four broken ribs and a chipped right kneecap. And, most threatening, a severed renal artery that had potentially compromised your kidney--­the only one, it turns out, you had. They say the human body can lose 50 percent of its body parts and survive. But it depends on which parts, and which body. Renal agenesis. They don't call it a disease; they call it a condition. The condition of being born with only one kidney, occurring in roughly one in two thousand people. Most never know the condition exists, because the single kidney grows large enough to accommodate the body's needs. What was it that hit you? Not a tree. Not the hard ground. Not a rock jutting up from the ravine. But something manufactured, plastic or glass or steel, some man-­made, hard edge of the car that caught the curve of your body as you flew, piercing you on impact. When we arrived at the hospital, you were in a medically induced coma, which I was made to understand was a sort of freezing of you, a fabricated reprieve from your own body that would allow your internal organs to rest. We had been informed that while your body was in that state, there was not much we could do. The coma might be necessary for a few days, or a few weeks, or even a few months. It was too soon to tell. We called my mother. She said your sisters were sound asleep. She said that my father, whom I hadn't seen in more than twenty years, had indeed finally arrived from Maine. She said the two of them would hold down the fort. Jonathan and I drove up and down El Camino Real until we found a room in a motel close to the hospital, the Mermaid Inn, a pink stucco affliction squeezed between a Starbucks and an independent bookstore. Aside from its proximity to you, and the coffee that could be procured next door, the single feature that can be put forward in that motel room's defense was the price--­sixty-­three dollars a night. Excerpted from A Small Indiscretion: A Novel by Jan Ellison All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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