The Last Secret: A Novel

Paperback | April 6, 2010

byMary Mcgarry Morris

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“There are few contemporary authors whose work can absorb readers so fully and with such immediacy that the line between character and reader begins to seem dangerously thin. Among these few is the brilliant Mary McGarry Morris.” –Los Angeles Times


Mary McGarry Morris has been hailed as “one of the most skillful writers at work in America today” (Michiko Kakutani, New York Times). In The Last Secret, she tells the riveting story of Nora Hammond, a woman blessed with the perfect life: a charming husband, two bright teenage children, a successful career in the family’s newspaper business, and an esteemed role in the charity work of her New England town. But Nora’s comfortable existence threatens to unravel when she learns of her husband’s longtime affair–and when the specter of a sordid incident from her youth returns with terrifying force.

Confronted by shame and betrayal, Nora suddenly feels dangerously alone. With no one to turn to, she becomes easy prey to a ghost from her past–the cunning, relentless Eddie Hawkins.

A tautly told tale of psychological tension and chilling moral complexity, The Last Secret accelerates to a shattering conclusion as it explores the irreparable consequences of one family’s crimes of the heart. The Last Secret burnishes Mary McGarry Morris’s reputation as one of our most pro­digously gifted writers.


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From the Publisher

“There are few contemporary authors whose work can absorb readers so fully and with such immediacy that the line between character and reader begins to seem dangerously thin. Among these few is the brilliant Mary McGarry Morris.” –Los Angeles TimesMary McGarry Morris has been hailed as “one of the most skillful writers at work in Ameri...

Mary McGarry Morris (born February 10, 1943) is an American novelist, short story author and playwright. Her first book, Vanished, was published in 1988 after being written over a ten-year period. It was a finalist for the National Book Award. Her 1991 novel, A Dangerous Woman, was named by Time Magazine as one of the Five Best Novels ...

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Songs In Ordinary Time

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Mélodie du temps ordinaire
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Format:PaperbackDimensions:288 pages, 8.01 × 5.16 × 0.63 inPublished:April 6, 2010Publisher:Crown/ArchetypeLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0307451852

ISBN - 13:9780307451859

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They still don’t believe her, and why should they, but it’s always thesame, it is–this same dream, darkness, heat, and the song, the samesong, same deafening beat.Driving. Midnight. Still driving; their beacon through the desert,flashing lights, pink and green neon from the roadhouse roof. Eddiecruises the parking lot. He parks on the farthest side, in shadows.Tired and hungry, she slips after him into the reek of beery dust. Itcoats the bar top, the windows, the dimly lit jukebox blasting that song“Gimme Some Lovin’ ” over and over and over again. Their luck’sabout to change, Eddie says. He feeds quarters into the jukebox, thelast of their money–hers, mostly.Sitting behind them, the only other customer, a skinny man, grimyshirt, loosened tie, jacket bunched up next to his beer mug. His headbobs over the table. Her own face floats in the murky bar mirror, outlinedin blinking red Christmas bulbs. This inferno of caged heatpulsates between the sagging ceiling and gritty plank floor. A dream,nothing’s real. The blur of overhead fan blades dizzies her.Elbows sticking to the bar, she sips a rum and Coke; only seventeen,but as long as she keeps sliding the drink back in front of Eddie,the skinny bartender could care. He ignores her, acts like she’s noteven here. She grabs another cherry, and Eddie winks in the mirror.Their last meal, hamburgers–this morning; “poor man’s brunch,”Eddie said. Every time the bartender looks away, she grabs more, cherries,olives, slimy little cocktail onions, shoves them into her mouth,swiveling on the stool to hide her ravenous chewing. They havedevoured the bowl of pretzels. After warm beer in the car all day, it’srum Eddie wants. The more he drinks the sharper he grows, pale eyesglinting, voice roughening, snagging on her soft parts, moving deepinside, his hard running feet, tingling through her legs and thighs,belly and heart, pounding with the music. She covers her grin. Drinkingmakes her tired and silly, the least little thing, she’s laughing sohard she can’t stop. Or crying. Today, mostly crying.Another quarter, that song again.Eddie pauses by the table. The man’s head jerks up. Laughing,Eddie leans close, back muscles rippling through his damp T-shirt.Blond, tanned, blue eyes, dimples, oh God. Her eyes burn. Eddie’sgesturing. The man glances back, and she looks away. Now Eddie’shand is soft on her thigh, one finger stroking flesh high, high betweenher legs. Her eyes close as his mouth brushes her ear, singing thatsong, heat in her ear.She’s known him forever, it seems through the haze of longing. Butonly a summer month before she was a chambermaid at the ClayborneHotel in Lake George that drizzly day when he drove up in the yellowMustang, top down, his arm over the back of the seat. “Hey, prettygirl,” he called as she dragged along the gravel path in her baggy greenuniform, arms loaded with buckets, scrub brushes, and mop. “I’vecome to rescue you.”It was her last summer of high school. Six years older, he knew somuch about life. After Yale, he’d invested the ten-thousand-dollargraduation gift from his wealthy grandfather in an international grainbrokerage company. In just three months’ time he made a quarter of amillion dollars. Then came the sharks who, with a taste of his blood,wanted more. “Bad deals and blind faith,” he’d sigh. “A deadly combination.”There was a great job in L.A., a friend of his grandfather’s. Hejust had to get there.Tall with boyish hips, still almost flat-chested, but she drove himcrazy, Eddie said. “You’re the first one,” he whispered in his bleakroom, rented by the night. Too busy studying, he’d never had a sociallife. He liked to turn all the lights on while undressing her.Eyes closed, her arm over her face, trembling, craving the stasis ofsleep while he stroked her feet, traced each bone in her rib cage, murmuring,“There, pretty girl, there, there.”Eleven when her father died. Her mother, by necessity, stern, aschoolteacher who, after having raised her older daughter Carol to acollege-educated, newly wed nurse, was bewildered by this youngerchild’s moody volatility.One day after work Eddie came by to say he was going. L.A. Theycouldn’t hold the job much longer. Did she want to come? Yes or no.Time was running out. He had another one of his terrible headaches.She called from the road, cringing as her mother demanded tospeak with this Eddie she’d never even heard of, much less met. Smiling,he took the phone and apologized for their abrupt departure, butshe could rest assured her daughter was in safe hands.“I love her, Mrs. Trimble. And I’m going to take care of her. Always.I promise. All we want is your blessing.”“My blessing!” her mother shrieked across the line. “My blessing!All you’ll get from me is a warrant for your arrest!”Watching a baseball game at the end of the bar, the bartenderhunches close to the snowy black-and-white TV screen. Another quarter.That song again. Eddie’s song. Red lights flash on his face. Herstomach lurches, oniony bile searing her throat. Her sweaty thighsstick to the brittle plastic. Eddie’s arm falls, heavy on her shoulders.His tongue drags over her ear. She can’t believe what he wants.Turning from the table, the man watches with a wet, imploring grin.“Like a joke. You’ll see. C’mere. Feel. Feel, can you feel that?”Eddie asks, pressing against her leg. “You know where that belongs.You know. You know . . .” His moan burns her ear. “Just a little, that’sall, to get us outta here.”“No . . . no,” she whispers, curling her neck away from his face. Ittakes all her effort.“Look at him.” With Eddie’s contemptuous gesture, the leeringman waves. “Flashing that roll, just begging for it, and us hungry.Come on. L.A., that’s all.”“No.”“Just get him outside, that’s all I ask.”“No. No, Eddie!”They’ll be doing the drunk a favor, Eddie says, smiling. The mantries to wink back, instead both eyes close. “His money’s gonna be awhole lot better spent feeding us than on that.” “I can’t. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.” She is crying again.Eddie shades his eyes. “Jesus Christ! Will you cut that out!”Clenched jaw. Squinting. It’s the flashing lights. His headachesscare her.“I can’t help it.” She blows her nose in a stiff cocktail napkin. “I’msorry!”“Just get him outside.”She shakes her head.“In my car. Front seat.”“No!”He squeezes her wrist against his chest. “Tell you what then, I’mwalking out that door, and you either come out with the asshole andwe’re on our way in two minutes, or stay here.” He leans close. “For allthe fuck I care!” He storms out.“Eddie!”The closing door, her flesh ripping from the stool, the grinningman, clutching his suit jacket, staggering her way. “You pretty . . .pretty . . . ,” he stammers, reaching for her. “You pretty thing, you . . .”“No. Don’t.” Ashamed, she doesn’t want the bartender to hear. Shegets the door open. “I’m leaving. I have to go. You stay here. Don’tcome out.” She can’t pull free. His fingers dig into her arm. “He’s outhere! Don’t.” She pushes him. In the parking lot their scuffling feetscrape a dead echo through the desert stillness. She shoves him away.“Go back in! Please!”“No!” His voice thickens with anger. “I can’t wait! I’m gonna fallasleep. We hafta do it now!” As if for inspection he straightens, lifts hischin, stares at her. “I come fast,” he promises with the pathetic, earnestdignity born of a lifetime justifying inadequacies. “And I don’t slobberaround after.”The Mustang’s shadowy hump rises from the side of the building.From here the man can’t see Eddie crouched in back.“See, you don’t know . . . you don’t understand . . . this isn’t whatyou think,” she whispers. “This isn’t–”“I know what this is!” the man shouts, his narrow face hatefullycontorted. “It’s a quick fuck before you go fuck your pimp on myfuckin’ twenty bucks.”“No! Please! Listen!” With the press of sweat, his, hers, unwashed,vile, her knees sway. “I have to get out of here!”“C’mere.” He’s trying to kiss her mouth. “You sweet . . . sweet . . .”“Where’s your car?”“He said his car . . .” Gesturing, he teeters.“No! He’s in there. In the back, waiting! C’mon!” She grabshis arm.“Pervert . . . goddamn pervert.” The man staggers against her.“ ’Magine . . .”It seems the longest walk through the heat, jagged and spittinglight from the gigantic pink and lime green flower, flashing overhead,obscene against the stars and the high white peel of moon. Nearing theMustang she senses Eddie’s dark coil about to spring. She runs towardthe man’s car, pulling him with her.“Hurry!” she hisses as he fumbles in his pocket.“Oh, Jesus.” He peers at the loose keys in his palm. “She can’twait . . . here . . . here, she goes,” he mutters, finally unlocking the door.She scrambles inside, pushes down the lock on her side.“Lock it!” she cries through the trapped heat.Instead, he is rolling down his window, entreating her thickly to bepatient. The Mustang door flies open and Eddie jumps out.“Close it!” She leans, reaching across him to do it herself.“Oh, you,” the man moans, forcing her head into his lap.“No!” she groans, hitting him. She sits back. Blood trickles downher chin. His ring, nails, something has cut her lip. “Start the car! Juststart the car!”The man’s window darkens. Eddie’s hand darts in, opens the door.One knee braced on the seat, he jams the heel of his hand into theman’s nose, shoves him against her. “Grab him! Hold him!” Eddieyells, face taut in the dim overhead light as he pins the man down. Hisstruggling, oily head grinds against her chest. His whimpering pleassicken her.Through the distant night comes a probing yellow eye, the train’ssteel and wooden clatter, the hard-beating ruckus of the song:So glad we made it,So glad we made it,You gotta gimme some lovin’,Gimme some lovin’ . . .Breaking free, the man lurches forward, reaches under the seat. Alead pipe. He swings and Eddie knocks it from his hand.“Asshole! Stupid asshole!” Eddie’s eyes widen, his nostrils flarewith the grin of gleaming teeth as the pipe splits the man’s face in two.The man jerks forward, arms cradling his head. “What’d you do thatfor?” Eddie keeps demanding in a high, gasping voice, of her, of her, ofher as the pipe smashes the man’s head until he sags against the steeringwheel.Opening the door, she half falls, half slides, crawling, then running,across the road toward the looming yellow light. Crossing the tracks,she waves her arms and screams into the deafening commotion. “Helpme! Help me!” Freight and tank cars roar by, parallel with the roadbed.“Help me! Help me! Help me!” she pants, running with the clatteringtrain. In the gaps between cars, come flashes of headlights, going in thesame direction as the train. “Oh, Eddie,” she cries, head back, armspumping as she runs faster than she has ever run. “Eddie!” she sobs,teary phlegm leaking into her bloody mouth.The caboose hurtles past, distant, fading, Eddie’s taillights with it.She stumbles onto the road, back the way she came, the sudden quietbearing only the platplatplat of her sandals on the macadam, her gasping,wheezy breath, as behind her swells the anxious whine of a car.She dives into the shallow ditch beside the tracks. Eyes closed, she liescurled in cinders. With her cheek to the hard rise of the gully, scrubbybrambles snag her arms and legs. The oncoming wheels pulsate in herskull. He slows down, speeds past. She scrambles onto the road, stomachchurning with every step. All at once she bends over, vomits, legssplayed, chest heaving, still gagging as headlamps flare high from be-hind, illuminating the emptiness ahead. The truck slows in a squeal ofair and brakes. The driver peers down from his silver cab. “You okay?”he hollers.“I need a ride!”“Get in!”“Oh, Jesus,” she cries as the door closes and the big rig rumblesahead.“What happened?” the barrel-chested man asks, dead cigar stubclenched between his teeth. “You in trouble?”“I don’t know!”“What happened?” He taps his chin, the blood.“There was a fight . . . and my boyfriend . . . oh, God, I’m so scared.Something terrible happened. Oh, God, God, help me, please helpme,” she sobs.“He in a convertible? Yellow Mustang? Then slide down, just slidedown,” the driver says. “Okay,” he says when the car whizzes by.A few miles ahead a cruiser passes, dome light spinning red. Thetruck driver flips on his radio, keeps glancing in the rearview.A woman’s staticky voice: “Ambulance! Up to the club. Fast, Buddysays.”“Oh, God,” she moans into her sticky hands.“Somebody’s hurt.” The driver looks at her.“My boyfriend. Eddie,” she sobs. “This guy tried to hit him. With apipe. And then, oh, God,” she gags, retching again.“Hey, hey, c’mon now,” the driver says. “You’re all right now. Hey, Igot kids myself. How old are you anyways?”“Seventeen,” she bawls at the horror, the shame of it. Her carefulupbringing, her hardworking, principled mother.“What’s your name?”“Nora.” She hesitates. “Trimble.”“Where you from, Nora?”“Massachusetts.”“You run away from home or something?”“No. I don’t know.”“Wanna go back?” “I don’t know. I don’t know what to do. Maybe I should go back, goback and help. Oh, God, he’s back there. In the car. He’s hurt.”“Who? Eddie?”“Oh my God,” she moans, covers her face.“How old’s Eddie?”“Twenty-three.”“Eddie’s a big boy. He’ll take care of it. He don’t need you.”A whoosh now, like the unsealing of a vault, as the truck slows forthe ramp onto the interstate.From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

Praise for THE LAST SECRET“THE LAST SECRET would be another (!) depressing story of a woman discovering her husband’s betrayal, but Morris pumps that old tale full of adrenaline by running a wicked psychological thriller in the background…What follows is a painfully insightful depiction of the disorienting effects of such betrayal while husband and wife attempt to preserve the theater of a successful marriage….It all leads to a propulsive climax that makes this sensitive work of literary fiction incredibly exciting.”–Ron Charles, The Washington Post"A classic tale of love gone wrong - with a chilling psychological twist."–Parade"Acclaimed author McGarry Morris, whose novel Songs in Ordinary Time was blessed by Oprah, delivers a dark tale of a woman with a haunted past and a tortured present....McGarry Morris manages to make every page ominous yet mesmerizing, delving into issues of betrayal, fidelity and passion. It's an engrossing page-turner for those who enjoy psychological thrillers."–Wisconsin State Journal"Morris approaches her characters with a deft, careful pen, never allowing the unusual situations or emotional tension to be anything but heartfelt and realistic...in this story, perfection fades into reality with a shocking series of twists and turns you can't help but devour quickly." –Feminist Review"Morris, whose previous novels include the National Book Award finalist Vanished and the Oprah’s Book Club selection Songs in Ordinary Time, excels at delving into the interior lives of her characters."–BookPage"Nora Hammond is a well-to-do New England wife who appears to have the perfect life. But her world unravels after she learns of her husband's affair and realizes that an indiscretion from her own past isn't as well hidden as she thought." –All You “Morris, a PEN/Faulkner finalist (Vanished) and Oprah Book Club author (Songs in Ordinary Time), here offers a melodramatic plotline that develops into a memorable, cinematic novel through strong portrayals of complex personalities....As suspense builds, Morris adds context and depth by carefully revealing inner lives dominated by deception and loneliness, creating empathy for a variety of flawed characters, including even monstrous Eddie.”–Library Journal“Keeping secrets leads to calamitous consequences in Morris’s disturbing domestic thriller. Morris (The Lost Mother) knocks over a domino chain of events that…confirm the importance of comprehending past mistakes to avoid future ones.” —Publishers WeeklyPraise for Mary McGarry MorrisThe Lost Mother“[The] subtlest novel that ever kept me up into the small hours of the night, unable to look away.”—Washington PostA Hole in the Universe“Welcome to the world of Mary McGarry Morris–and what a world it is. Richly atmospheric, bristling with dialogue, so tightened with suspense it threatens to snap. Morris is a master at sympathetic portraits of those clinging to the peripheries of society. And nowhere is her talent more evident than in her extraordinary new novel, A Hole in the Universe.” —Washington PostFiona Range“Morris is a master storyteller. . . . Fiona Range is a wealth of passion and heartbreak.” —USA TodaySongs in Ordinary Time“A gritty, beautifully crafted novel rich in wisdom and suspense . . .secures Morris’s status as one of our finest American writers.” —Miami HeraldA Dangerous Woman“At once thrilling and deeply affecting . . . Should burnish Ms. Morris’s reputation as one of the most skillful writers at work in America today.”—Michiko Kakutani, New York TimesVanished“Astonishing. Morris’s book should be judged on its own merits, and against the work of our most highly practiced and accomplished novelists.”—Vogue