In Ann Tatlock’s novel Every Secret Thing, Elizabeth Gunnar had attended Seaton Preparatory School in Delaware. Her high school English teacher there, Mr. Dutton, encouraged and nurtured her love of literature and inspired her to become an English teacher herself.
There are mentions through the book that something terrible happened to Mr. Dutton, and his story is told piecemeal in Elizabeth’s flashbacks. He was a well-loved teacher, so his tragedy hit the student body hard. But Elizabeth and three of her friends were stunned that the school covered up what really happened.
Now, twenty years later, Elizabeth has returned to Seaton as an English teacher. Mr. Dutton’s shadow looms large, but eventually Elizabeth finds her footing. One of her students, a girl named Satchel Paige, seems aloof, but Elizabeth learns of her troubled family background, and they eventually form a relationship.
Elizabeth speaks often of what she calls “moments of being.” She borrowed the phrase from Virginia Woolf, who described them as “a sudden shock, a welcome shock, in which she sensed something beyond the visible, or, as she wrote, the shock ‘is or will become a revelation of some order; it is a token of some real thing behind appearances.'” Elizabeth felt those moments were God manifesting Himself or trying to get our attention, and she even wrote a paper on that premise. But she knew Virginia didn’t believe in God. And she was sad to discover that Mr. Dutton didn’t, either, though he gave her an A on her paper.
Satchell progresses well until a crisis at home affects both herself and Elizabeth.
I feel I am not doing justice to this story: there’s so much I can’t say because I don’t want to spoil it. But I loved this book.
For one thing, I loved the era. Elizabeth graduated a couple of years behind me, so all the 70s references were familiar and nostalgic to me.
Then I identified very much with Elizabeth as the bookish “Jesus freak” (as some Christians were called then) introverted A student.
I loved the threads of “moments of being” throughout the novel as well as the thread of invisibility. Both Elizabeth and Satchell had felt invisible for different reasons. Elizabeth brought up Jesus’s calling of Nathanael, seeing him when he thought he was alone under a fig tree. I liked the truth that sometimes God uses us in ways we never knew until much later.
Overall, it’s a beautiful, redemptive story. It’s one of my favorites of Ann’s. I hope you’ll read it and tell me what you think.