If We’re Being Honest, by Cat Shook, is a gentle, feel-good Southern family story, a mni-family saga packed into one eventful week.
It begins with a shocking secret revealed at grandfather Gerry’s funeral, and includes his wife, their children and grandchildren. I have to admit I found it difficult to keep track of all the relatives for the first couple of chapters, which was a stressor for me reading other family stories, like The Cazalet Chronicles and Last Summer at the Golden Hotel. It paid off after a couple chapters, of course, as the generations and relationships came into focus.
If We’re Being Honest takes place in just one week, beginning with the extended family in town for Gerry’s funeral, and including a wedding for a neighbor and close family friend. This week is filled with connections and revelations, as secrets come out and characters discover their paths. Overall, there’s a lot of drama, but no real tension. There’s not a moment of doubt that everything will work out well for every single family member, it’s just a question of what working out will look like, and enjoying the path there.
Delia, one of Gerry’s grandchildren, is dealing with a recent breakup of a long-term relationship. She annoys her relatives by constantly asking for their thoughts about her ex and their breakup, but this is a family with a huge tolerance for each other’s annoyances and quirks. She’s hoping to reunite or at least get some understanding about her ex and when that discovery comes, it’s more satisfying that any tearful reunion scene could be. It’s not really much of a spoiler to reveal that about a couple who has already broken up at the start of the novel, is it? I love these moments of quiet understanding in fiction, this idea of a small, personal discovery leading a character to a newer, truer life. (If you liked this moment too, may I point you to literally everything Maeve Binchy has written?)
I liked the tolerance they all had for each other, even though much of the plot comes from secrets coming out. I liked how the family rolled with Carol Anne’s fourth husband, and his speech about being a mild and kind of dull person who’s enthralled with her constant, dramatic hijinks.
Mostly, the story takes unexpected turns and introduces non-trad resolutions for the characters’ situations. But I rolled my eyes at a certain romantic argument, partly because a forced third-act breakup is one of my unfavorite devices, and partly because the rest of the novel really celebrated relationships that didn’t follow the expected storyline, so Forced Argument and Obligatory Makeup was particularly annoying.
Overall, this was a warm family story, full of large and small surprises.