“Secrets of Happiness” by Joan Silber— Discovering a Secret

Silber, Joan. “Secrets of Happiness”, Counterpoint, 2020.

Discovering a Secret

Amos Lassen

When Ethan discovers his father in New York has long had another, secret, family of a wife and two kids, the destinies of both families bring about surprise loyalties, love triangles, and inner strength.

Ethan is a young lawyer in New York who learns that his father has long kept a second family–a Thai wife and two kids who live in Queens. As a result of this revelation, Ethan’s mother spends a year working abroad, She returns and events introduce her to the other wife. Meanwhile, Ethan’s half-brothers are caught in their own lives. One brother is involved in minor delinquency and that has escalated. The other bother must travel to Bangkok to bail him out. Their mother continues to influence their lives. 

Ethan is caught in a love triangle of his own and as the interwoven fates of these two households become clear, we have woman helping an ill brother with an unreliable lover and a filmmaker with a childhood in Nepal. The story spans three continents and shows the ways people uses the resources they have to find happiness. We are thrust into the lives of a dozen people and hear their stories through the voices of six narrators— Ethan, Joe, Maribel, Rachel, Bud, and Tara.

It was the late 1980’s, Ethan actually had a crush on his friend Mike and was still keeping things to himself. He did not come out as gay until he was a freshman at college. His parents were accepting of both their son and his first new boyfriend, Robert. They, however, just did not understand it all.Later after the relationship ended, Ethan becomes a lawyer and moves in with a new boyfriend, Tony and we see that there is  much more to learn about Ethan and all the other characters. 

Ethan’s mother was  a teacher who supported her son but then something changed and she needed support herself.Something happened to Ethan’s father. Joe’s High School girlfriend, Veronica, wanted him to marry her but she marries Schuyler. Maribel, when we first meet her, was working on a documentary as a runner.Schuyler was on the camera crew. Maribel knew that he was going back to New York. She could see his wedding band, but she started dating him anyway. Schuyler had gotten married right out of college. Brother and sister Rachel and Saul have their own journeys. Then there is Bud, am enigmatic character about whom I will say almost nothing and Tara who spent her first nine years living in Kathmandu.
These stories include the themes of parenting, families, LGBTQIA, and relationships of all kinds, are filled with wisdom and surprises.

I found myself often wondering who the characters really were but they do all come together to care for a man dying of leukemia. By the end of the book we do learn thesecrets of happiness. 

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