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The Secret by Cynthia Victor
(Onyx, $6.99, PG) ISBN 0-451-18604-4
**
There's a place in my life for fast-moving, superficial women's fiction, and for some reason The Secret kept me reading. But the novel left a bad aftertaste, and I don't recommend it.

Miranda is grateful when handsome and charming Stephen Schaeffer asks her to marry him on the eve of their college graduation. She stands by him while he first anguishes over his career choices and then becomes wildly successful as the anonymous author of a series of adventure novels. She defends him against his snobbish intellectual parents. She raises three children singlehandedly while he devotes his time to writing and social climbing. Of course she starts gaining a little weight and often looks less than glamorous, but what else can a mother do when she stays up all night with two kids who have the stomach flu?

As Stephen grows wealthier, he begins to resent Miranda for her frumpiness and starts planning a way to leave her, preferably with his small fortune intact. But the vehicle for his disappearance is not what he expects at all. Miranda is left with three kids, no money, and no way to keep up the lifestyle she has grown accustomed to. Then she comes up with an idea that could salvage everything, if only she can pretend to be something she is not and keep it a secret from the rest of the world.

I guess I don't want to give away the plot, but suffice to say that the "wild, daring idea" touted on the back cover isn't really that exciting, or surprising. And once Miranda does decide to go ahead with her plan, her road to success is so smooth that it isn't at all interesting. Without any ado, she regains her wealth and snags the perfect guy. And goes from a size 14 to a size 6 in what seems to me an impossibly short time.

The Secret would have been much more bearable if less time had been spent on Stephen's point of view, but unfortunately he accounts for at least 25% of the novel. He is a class A selfish jerk and frankly I didn't want to spend any time discovering what was going on in his mind. His amoral behavior was the main contributor to the novel's bad aftertaste. A subplot involving Miranda's sister Lydia isn't very well developed and doesn't add anything to the story other than adultery. The true love that Miranda finds is so perfect and bland that he barely registers with the reader.

There is also a carelessness to the book that makes it seem dashed off in a hurry. The story spans at least a decade, but there are no dates given to anchor the reader and as each chapter starts it takes a while to figure out how many years have passed since the previous one. Even the ages of Miranda's kids are a mystery for a while.

The ebullient back cover (boy, I wonder how the people who write these things sleep at night!) links this book with The First Wives Club, but this book has none of Olivia Goldsmith's sassy zing. If you enjoy the theme of divorced women getting revenge, I'd suggest you try Jane Heller's Cha Cha Cha, a hysterically funny account of a wealthy suburbanite who ends up working as a maid, solving a murder, and finding true love in the most unlikely place when her husband leaves her penniless. It was easy for me to read The Secret in just a few hours and equally easy to forget it when I was done.

--Susan Scribner


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