The Secret Talker
Author : Yan Geling
Published in January, 2004 by Harper Via ( An imprint of Harper Publishing)
155 pages on Kindle
The book jumps right in with the main character, Hongmei, opening and reading an email from an anonymous emailer that seems to know quite a lot about her.
Hongmei is the Chinese wife of an American professor named Glen and on the surface they seem to have carved out a perfect life in the San Francisco Bay area. But everything is not as it seems and this perfect life is deeply flawed. As the book unfolds it becomes evident there are secrets being kept, lies being told, a serious lack of communication and the passion has fizzled.
That is, until Hongmei decides to engage with this mysterious emailer and willfully sprint down a path sure to lead to destruction and devastation. Along the way, through a series of emails and thoughts shared by Hongmei, we see that this mystery admirer is actually stalking Hongmei and as more creepy details are shared, deep secrets are revealed, and ultimately Hongmei finds herself unable to escape the rabbit hole that has been blasted open by her mystery stalker.
As the story races towards its conclusion, readers are left wondering if she’s made a fatal mistake or if it’s really a date with destiny and a chance at a fresh start.
While the genre of the “domestic thriller” may not be for everybody, The Secret Talker provides a few key take-aways most will pick up on, some more problematic than others.
The key to a good mystery and a good thriller is the ability to not only hide clues in plain sight throughout the book, but to leave these clues in a manner in which the reader won’t see where it’s going too early. While this book does a nice job of hiding a lot of the clues and throws a lot of false leads at us, ultimately it suffers from page one because the idea that an intelligent military woman(Hongmei) would engage with what appears to be a spam email at best, fraud/phishing email attempt at worst, is almost too far-fetched to make any sense. And that is page one.
Assuming that pill can be swallowed in the interest of enjoying a story however, this book does present some interesting twists and turns with just enough elements of danger to keep those pages turning.
This is a very quick read, as most thrillers tend to be, and while there are a LOT of elements of this story that ask the reader to REALLY stretch their limits of “Just rolling with it” because they are so far fetched compared to how people would ACTUALLY react in these situations, it’s an ok story and decently fun ride.
What truly saves this book is Yan Geling’s beautiful writing. So often through this book the plot is eye-roll inducing, yet her turns of phrase and use of language to make the reader pause and think is truly a joy.
Words, when compared with feelings, are too concrete, too arbitrary, whereas feelings are richer but more elusive—ambiguous, if you will. Where words are muted, feelings begin.
Yan, Geling. The Secret Talker (p. 41). HarperVia. Kindle Edition.
The world outside my little village wasn’t as big as the educated youth had made it sound, nor even as big as I’d imagined. I wanted to see somewhere larger. I mean the unknown, like when Glen first showed up, and his every word and movement uncovered new ground. Even his smallest, most overlooked gesture.
Yan, Geling. The Secret Talker (p. 46). HarperVia. Kindle Edition.
The Secret Talker is loaded with beautiful passages like this, touching so beautifully on the human condition and evoking the Haiku masters of the past. It’s this writing that kept the pages turning and notes being added, sometimes the experience of thoughtful writing is worth it.
That, however, is not why most people choose to read a book. The story is king, which is a problem for this book. While the writing is wonderful at times, the story premise is full of so many far-fetched and frankly unbelievable moments in which Hongmei makes horrible decision after horrible decision, that it’s incredibly hard to get invested in this story or the characters within.
Yes there is a “twist” at the end.
Yes, you’ll likely have it all figured out by the halfway point of this book. But you’ll continue to read anyhow. In the end, while it IS technically a “domestic thriller”, it ends up feeling like the larger message is that of self discovery for Hongmei. Not to say that it’s a bad thing, but it’s not all that satisfying. You’re mileage may vary.
From a character and story standpoint only, I’d give The Secret Talker a 2 out of 5 stars, but because there are so many beautiful passages that allow you to stop and enjoy the thoughts as they pertain to your own life or life in general, I’ll give it a little extra credit.
I recommend you check it out if only to enjoy some beautifully written passages and who knows, if you are a fan of thrillers, especially those based around a perfect marriage with plenty of secrets, you may well enjoy this story much more than I did. But either way, at just 155 pages in the Kindle version, it’s a fast read and you aren’t being asked to commit too much to this transparent thriller.
The Secret Talker by Yan Geling gets 3 out of 5 stars.
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