Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Book Review of Dianne Dixon's The Language of Secrets

The Language of Secrets
The blurb:
As he turned toward the third headstone, Justin's eyes were blurred with tears. The stone was smaller and far more weathered than the other two. It took him a moment before he could clearly see its inscription:

Thomas Justin Fisher
August 5, 1972 - February 20, 1976

Justin had come in search of his father's grave. And found his own.

Justin Fisher has a successful career as the manager of a luxury hotel, a lovely wife, and a charming young son. While all signs point to a bright future, Justin can no longer ignore the hole in his life left by his estranged family. When he finally gathers the courage to reconnect with his troubled past, Justin is devastated to learn his parents have passed away. And a visit to the cemetery brings the greatest shock of all -- next to the graves of his father and mother sits a smaller tombstone for a three-year-old boy: a boy named Thomas Justin Fisher.

What follows is an extraordinary journey as Justin struggles to piece together the heartbreaking truth about his family. With great skill and care, Dianne Dixon explores the toll that misunderstandings, blame and resentment can take on a family. But it is the intimate details of family life -- a mother's lullaby for her son, a father's tragic error in judgment -- that make this an exceptional and deeply emotional novel from a new storyteller.

When I first started The Language of Secrets, I wasn't sure what to expect. The book opens with Justin Fisher pulling up to a beautiful old wooden house 20 minutes from Los Angeles. Justin is so nervous that he's trembling and he hides this from his young wife. It is clear that Justin doesn't know what to expect and is somewhat disoriented, we don't know why his memory appears spotty - whether there is something wrong with Justin's mental state or if some event has caused these "missing pieces -- blank spaces where important parts of his past should have been". It is clear that there's a mystery and that it began over a decade ago.

Justin discovers that the dreaded family reunion has been postponed. It has taken him so long to return to the house on Lima Street, that it is too late to see his parents. When he discovers his grave next to theirs, Justin begins to wonder about his grip on reality. To be h0nest, I did too -- Dianne Dixon keeps us guessing about the mystery of Justin's gravestone and who Justin Fisher really is.

This uncertainty, coupled with the stresses of a new job and relocation from England, and the growing pains of his recent marriage put additional pressure on Justin just as he appears fragile. Dixon is careful not tip her hand - and the details and the writing draw us into the mystery and keep us wondering.

As Justin slowly comes across clues to his past and Dixon reveals what happened during those "missing years", she weaves in the story of Justin's different parents. Once Dixon introduced Caroline and told her story, The Language of Secrets transformed from a good read to an amazing story. As the book will affect each reader in a unique way, to me The Language of Secrets was a book about motherhood - the sacrifices, pains, joy, and misunderstood moments. The Language of Secrets is a unique book, beautifully crafted and powerful.

It strikes me as a book perfect for book clubs. I would love to find out how other people felt about Justin, his family and what they went through.

ISBN-10: 0385530633 - Hardcover $24.95
Publisher: Doubleday (March 23, 2010), 272 pages
Review copy provided by the publisher.

About the Author: Dianne Dixon is a screenwriter living in California who has twice been nominated for an Emmy, has won a Humanities Award for work done in television, and has been Visiting Professor of Creative Writing at Pitzer College, a member of the Claremont College. Learn more about Dianne Dixon at www.diannedixon.com

Interested in this book for your reading group? Head to www.doubleday.com/readers to access the reading group guide for The Language of Secrets.

Thank you so much to Judy and Doubleday for this review opportunity!


  1. Dear Gaby,

    Your review really spoke to the heart of Dianne's novel -- esp the comment about the motherhood - -"the sacrifices, pains, joy, and misunderstood moments." Thank you for such a close read. I hope this gets out there!

  2. Thanks so much for the kind words, ReadMoreBooks! You made my day.