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A Small Indiscretion: A Novel Paperback – February 9, 2016
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“Part psychological thriller, part character study . . . I peeled back the pages of this book as fast as I could.”—The Huffington Post
“[Jan] Ellison is a tantalizing storyteller, dropping delicious hints of foreshadowing and shifting back and forth in time, . . . moving her story forward with cinematic verve. . . . [She] masterfully captures the confusing and powerful moment when a young woman realizes her effect on men. Compellingly sympathetic characters bring the London chapter of Annie’s story to dramatic life. If you are clinging to a stash of letters and ticket stubs from old lovers, Indiscretion may have you rethinking the cost of holding on to the past rather than basking in the virtues of the present.”—USA Today
“Astonishing . . . This voice is alive. It knows something. It will take us somewhere. The magic is accomplished so fast, so subtly, that most readers hardly notice. . . . A Small Indiscretion is rich with suspense. . . . Delectable elements of this terrific first novel abound: Its characters are round and real. . . . Ellison gives us an achingly physical sense of family life. . . . Lovely writing guides us through, driven by a quiet generosity. . . . This voice knows something, and by the end of the novel, so do we.”—San Francisco Chronicle (Book Club pick)
“Delicious, lazy-day reading. Just don’t underestimate the writing. Ellison describes her various love triangles in lavish prose. . . . The real strengths of this novel are the foggy, intimate flashbacks that so perfectly capture the sexual and romantic confusion of a young woman in a foreign land.”—Leigh Newman, O: The Oprah Magazine (Editor’s Pick)
“Rich and detailed . . . The plot explodes delightfully, with suspense and a few twists. Using second-person narration and hypnotic prose, Ellison’s debut novel is both juicy and beautifully written. How do I know it’s juicy? A stranger started reading it over my shoulder on the New York City subway, and told me he was sorry that I was turning the pages too quickly.”—Flavorwire
“Are those wild college days ever really behind you? Happily married Annie finds out.”—Cosmopolitan
“An impressive fiction debut . . . both a psychological mystery and a study of the divide between desire and duty.”—San Jose Mercury News
“A novel to tear through on a plane ride or on the beach . . . I was drawn into a web of secrets, a world of unrequited love and youthful mistakes that feel heightened and more romantic on the cold winter streets of London, Paris, and Ireland.”—Bustle
“Annie Black is a flawed heroine whose impulses we may distrust, but whose voice is compelling, drawing us in with her ruminating self-awareness and lively observations of those around her. . . . Ellison renders the California landscape with stunning clarity. . . . She writes gracefully, with moments of startling insight. . . . Her first novel is an emotional thriller, skillfully plotted in taut, visual scenes. The stakes are high from the start. . . . As Ellison pulls the thread that unravels the past, she weaves a rich tapestry of memory and desire, secrets and omissions, and exposes the knotted wages of love. . . . A Small Indiscretion resolves in an astonishing plot twist that offers both destruction and self-discovery.”—The Rumpus
“To read A Small Indiscretion is to eat fudge before dinner: slightly decadent behavior, highly caloric, and extremely satisfying. . . . An emotional detective story that . . . mirrors real life in ways that surprise and inspire.”—New York Journal of Books
“If you liked Gone Girl for its suspenseful look inside the psychology of a bad marriage, try A Small Indiscretion by Jan Ellison. . . . It touches many of the same nerves.”—StyleCaster
“A great book club selection . . . both suspenseful and literary . . . [with] topics like love, obsession, betrayal, forgiveness, marriage, and second chances that make it interesting to dissect.”—Booking Mama
“How Ellison interweaves the mystery involving Annie’s younger life in London, events in the recent past and those of the present is astounding. . . . It is so compelling you will want to read more after the book ends. Jan Ellison is here to stay.”—The Free Lance-Star
“Jan Ellison has created a patchwork quilt–like story about a family in turmoil. . . . [An] exploration of love in its many forms . . . an engrossing novel.”—Kansas City Literature Examiner
“In Jan Ellison’s terrific debut novel, youthful sexual antics produce an ‘astonishing’ fallout decades later, said Joan Frank in the San Francisco Chronicle. . . . As we read on, the story ‘morphs—flavorfully, artfully—into a sexual whodunit.’”—The Week
“An emotional thriller . . . Connoisseurs of domestic suspense will finish this book in a few breathless sittings.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Hard to put down . . . O. Henry Prize winner Jan Ellison’s debut novel is a puzzle with the outside pieces finished. Reading it is like compulsively fitting all those revealing middle pieces together. . . . Skillfully weaving two plots, Ellison unveils the details of each, piece by tantalizing piece.”—BookPage
“[A] cleverly constructed debut . . . a deftly crafted, absorbing novel that peels back the layers of Annie’s character as it reveals the secrets of her past and present.”—Booklist
“An engrossing, believable, gracefully written family drama that reveals our past’s bare-knuckle grip on our present.”—Emma Donoghue, New York Times bestselling author of Room
“A stunning debut by Jan Ellison . . . Like the photograph that arrives in the mail and sets in motion the plot of this gorgeous novel, A Small Indiscretion reminds us of the intensity of youthful desire and of the fragile nature of a marriage built on secrecy.”—Ann Packer, New York Times bestselling author of The Dive from Clausen’s Pier
“A Small Indiscretion is that rare thing—a literary page turner written with great warmth and humanity, which pulls the reader in emotionally without a hint of sentimentality.”—Alice LaPlante, New York Times bestselling author of Turn of Mind
“It might be convenient if our mistakes would fade with time rather than hunt us down complete with consequence, but that wouldn’t make for the kind of taut, hypnotic story Jan Ellison tells. The impact of narrator Annie Black’s ‘small’ indiscretion is anything but, and in a brilliantly paced unraveling, Ellison makes vivid the sometimes tragic interplay of choice and fate, lust and love, youth and adulthood—which can bring its own mistakes. Absorbing, chilling, and moving, A Small Indiscretion is the debut of an elegant writer who will be known and admired from the start.”—Robin Black, author of Life Drawing
From the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
Jan Ellison is an O. Henry Prize winner and a graduate of Stanford University. She left college for a year at nineteen to travel and work in Europe, taking notes that two decades later became the germ of A Small Indiscretion. Ellison lives in California with her husband of twenty years and their four children.
From the Hardcover edition.
Top customer reviews
What more can we ask from a book than to have it speak personally to us - as if it was written for us? I loved this book and loved that it provoked my own journey back in time.
This was the perfect read.
I became captivated by Annie from the start, and she held me throughout. So many layers, so many twists, yet so much was just right.
I loved the familiar places in the story, the City, the San Francisco peninsula, even Paris, and London! I even found the shadows of my past presenting themselves once again into my own life.
Thank you Jan for a lovely novel, Bravo!!
In the format of a letter to her absent adult son, Annie Black recounts the events that would ultimately come to disrupt their happy family. Before marrying her husband of 20+ years, Annie spent a year in London, where she became intricately involved in the lives of her much older boss, his wife and his wife’s lover. Now, all these years later, Annie’s past has reentered her life, and the consequences of her youthful indiscretions threaten to destroy everything she holds dear.
Annie’s story jumps back and forth as she digs into her past, finding to her dismay that her memories may have failed her over the years. This is a profound story about many things: the infallibility of memory, the choices we make, and the lies we tell — not only to ones we love, but to ourselves.
In Ellison’s remarkable debut novel, she eloquently explores the complexities of love, marriage and relationships of all kinds while slowly unraveling a deeply engrossing story.
The writing is lyrical and interesting. A long stretch of the book takes place between London, Paris and Dublin, but in late December, and Ellison's descriptions of these cities under gray skies and cold rain is evocative and elegant. Her characters are realistic people that you come to know as the book unfolds, wholly without the contrived quirks that seem to be de rigueur in so many contemporary novels about families. The protagonist in particular is a well-drawn and deeply sympathetic character who is nonetheless flawed. The story challenges us to forgive her as she is struggling to find some forgiveness and redemption for herself. The book is paced well, with disjointed and confusing memories presented early that fall into a picture one by one as the story progresses through longer and more detailed recollections. Even so, there are surprises that make it a thriller of sorts. The story picks through layers of secrets and lies, not least of which are the lies that the protagonist tells herself.
In the end, the book is a meditation on regret, self-forgiveness, and love's power to heal and redeem when lives are wrecked and adrift. It tells an engaging story via a serpentine path, then finishes with a statement about the ultimate possibilities for happiness among human weakness and folly.
Ellison has serious writing chops - almost every sentence is lyrical and the plot is tight. It's hard to believe this is her first novel!
"Jonathan and I drove up and down El Camino Real until we found a room in a motel close to the hospital, the Mermaid Inn, a pink stucco affliction squeezed between a Starbucks and an independent bookstore."
"Under the baking sun were three-story apartment buildings painted pastel colors, bounded by concrete and chain link, whole communities of children contained within."
"A column of gnats hovered above the grass. From where I reclined, it looked like rain afraid to land."
"There was music coming from somewhere, and we danced."
"He told me he could taste the sparks on my skin."
"I stood on the frosty ground at the edge of the cliff. It was very steep and there was no railing. I could have jumped. Or pushed someone."
"...the memory of that dinner clings to me like a hangover that won't end."