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A Small Indiscretion    by Jan Ellison order for
Small Indiscretion
by Jan Ellison
Order:  USA  Can
Random House, 2015 (2015)
Hardcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle

If we live long enough, who among us, thinking back over our lives won't remember things we did when we were young that embarrass us, maybe even shock our now more mature selves?

A Small Indiscretion, a first novel by Jan Ellison, tells about how those early choices can come back to alter our present lives in ways that we could never have predicted. Annie Black made her way to London when she was nineteen years old and reveled in freedom from parental or even societal restraint, since she was away from her home and family in California and completely on her own. She managed to find a job, a place to live that she could afford, and new friends. In fact, many of those friends weren't friends at all but simply people she met in pubs, where there were many people interested in talking to her and beer and wine flowed freely.

Even though Annie's father was an alcoholic and his drinking was the main reason he left her family, she fell into much the same pattern in London of drinking more and more to ease the pain that had sent her running away in the first place. She did manage to resist the sexual temptation presented to her by her married boss, who was openly attracted to her. Little by little, though, she became enmeshed in a romantic situation, exacerbated by her drinking too much, that ended only when she ran away again, and luckily for her, met the man whom she would later marry.

When the book begins Annie is a happily married mother of three children. She lives and has a small shop called The Salvaged Light in San Francisco where she creates imaginative lights out of various recycled materials, such as 'vintage kitchen implements - stovetop toasters, copper colanders, antique silver spoons that she'd drilled and wired, then fitted with gorgeous halogen lights.' Her lights are so popular that she has been the main support of the family even though her husband is a doctor. He had given up practicing medicine and devoted himself to writing medical books.

Things start to go wrong for Annie when she hires a young woman named Emme to help her in the store and live in the loft above it. Although Emme seems to be happy to get the job and the apartment that came with it, and she proves to be a good worker, there is always something a little strange about her: her moodiness, her bizarre way of dressing, and the incredible messiness of her room, which Annie discovers accidentally. Emme is beautiful, though, and Annie isn't surprised when her son becomes interested in her.

I really enjoyed reading this book. The style took a little getting used to, since Annie was supposedly writing an explanation of the events to her son. She wanted to tell him about what in her life might have led up to the accident that injured him and caused a rift with her husband. She keeps trying to remember and to make sense of what happened in the past, and gradually fills in the blanks for herself and us. The characters, even those who aren't that likeable - which includes Annie at some points - are believable, fully drawn people, and the book marches along to a satisfactory conclusion. It reads like a good mystery, but without a murder.

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