If you read "Little Altars Everywhere", you will be glad to know that "Divine Secrets" takes a look at the life of Siddalee Walker from the distance of heavily analyzed adulthood. "Divine Secrets" focuses once again on Siddalee, but this time she is a 40-year old successful stage director who is taking some time out from her career and her love life to put to rest some old ghosts.
After having humiliated her mother in national print (a New York Times reporter calls Viviane Walker "a tap dancing child abuser"), Siddalee is gifted with her mother's scrapbook, which, in Vivane Walker's typically outrageous style, has been named "The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood". Viviane sends Siddalee this volume of personal mementos in an effort to have Siddalee understand her better without having to put any personal effort into the process.
Inside this scrapbook, Siddalee discovers bits and pieces of her mother's past - pictures, newspapaer articles, mementos - but she is not granted the entire story surrounding each of these titilating fragments. The reader is able to learn, through Viviane's own memory, all of the interesting details that Siddalee doesn't get to know.
This, I feel, is the greatest weekness in "Divine Secrets". The reader gets to see Viviane as a child and an adolescent, living in a home where she is abused by her father and openly detested by her mother. We learn about the death in WWII of Viviane's first and only love and the stresses put on her by having four stair-step children and an absentee husband. Siddalee, however, is not privy to any of this information. She reads tantalizing tidbits in newspaper articles, gleans what meaning she can from photographs, party invitations, and mysterious keys, but never knows any of the details the reader does. Because of this, it is difficult for me to believe that in the end of the novel Siddalee can forgive Viviane her many transgressions. It doesn't seem to me that she has enough information to be that magnanimous.
Other than this one flaw, "Divine Secrets" is a beautiful book. The women in this novel are fully realized characters - I recognized each one of these women, and even grew up with some of them (but not all of them together, thank goodness!). The descriptions of Louisiana are rich and detailed, and as much as I hate a crustaceon, I was dreaming of crawfish for days after turning the last page.
"Divine Secrets" is about forgiveness and the power of love. Rebecca Wells is brave to offer up a novel filled with women who are real enough to not always be likable (in fact, Viviane is almost never likable), and she is a talented enough word smith to keep these women sympathetic. "Divine Secrets" is a soothing, redeeming follow up to "Little Altars", and I recommend it. Throw some Zydeco on the stereo and curl up with a cup of java - this one will keep you up all night!