Did you ever read a romance that just swept you away into another reality? Maybe the setting was exotic, or the characters were so compelling that you could really imagine getting to know them in real life. A really good romance can do this - even when the characters are experiencing real struggles, you feel privileged to have gotten a glimpse into their world. Other romances don’t deal with the problems of everyday life quite as well. Rather than feeling uplifted by the characters’ struggle to grow through their hardships, you feel tired and weighted down. Unfortunately, The Secret Son falls into the latter category.
Erica Cooley is married to Senator Jefferson Cooley, a man who is much older than she is, and somewhat of a father figure to her. Their marriage is one based on friendship and convenience rather than passion. Although Jefferson has always been in love with Erica, she just cannot reciprocate his feelings. Not surprisingly this is the problem that ultimately spells disaster for their marriage. As if this isn’t enough to worry about, Jefferson is also Erica’s boss - she serves as his communications director.
When the book opens, Erica is in New York on business. Here she meets Jack Shaw, a hostage negotiator for the FBI. Jack and Erica are attracted to one another, and spend a week’s worth of evenings talking. They have much in common, particularly troubles that have plagued their love lives. Erica’s first husband, Shane, betrayed her, leaving her doubtful that she will ever be able to truly love again. Jack lost his wife and infant daughter to a tragic accident, so he, too is jaded. This sets the stage for what later becomes the big conflict of their relationship…you guessed it…fear of commitment.
On her last night in New York, Erica meets Jack one last time. They both get rip roaring drunk, end up in Erica’s hotel room, and thus the “secret son” is conceived. When Erica realizes she is pregnant she tearfully confesses all to Jefferson. Although he isn’t thrilled, he vows to support her through the pregnancy and raise the child as his own. Erica does not contact Jack at all during the pregnancy. He has made it clear that he is unable to make any kind of commitment to anyone.
Five years later, now divorced, Erica and her son Kevin bump into Jack at a park in Washington DC. It seems Jack has been offered a job there and is considering taking it. He is unaware that Kevin is his son, and is interested in renewing his friendship with Erica. What follows is a long, drawn out relationship that becomes tedious. Erica doesn’t want to tell Jack about Kevin, as she feels that neither Kevin nor Jack could handle it. She is also as afraid to commit to Jack as he is to her. Complicating things further, Jefferson is still very much involved in Erica’s life, and on some level still loves her. Even Kevin is experiencing emotional problems, due to his parents’ recent divorce.
These characters became very frustrating by the end of the book. Erica spends a lot of time beating herself up for ever having the affair with Jack in the first place. She can’t forgive herself, and is plagued with guilt and low self-esteem. Jack’s reluctance to make a commitment makes him seem selfish and immature. This particularly becomes apparent when he interacts with Kevin. He almost can’t stand to be around him because it reminds him of the child he lost. He avoids contact with Kevin, which just seems mean, considering what the boy is going through. Jefferson is also exasperating. He has found himself a new love, yet is still fixated on Erica. Erica seems to encourage this kind of attention. It’s as if she wants to have her cake and eat it too…she loves the excitement and passion Jack provides, but also craves the security of Jefferson. It makes for an awkward triangle; one you’d never want to see a real child trapped in.
Don’t get me wrong, I like it when characters have problems that would actually occur in real life. My problem with The Secret Son is that there is very little joy to balance out all of the emotional pain going on. There is some good writing in there, and the characters were all well drawn. Perhaps if there had been a little more action and a little less introspection going on, I might have enjoyed the book more. As it was, I found myself eager to escape from these characters. Their problems and heartache depressed me. I guess the best thing about The Secret Son is that it made me really appreciate my mundane life!