If Only I Could Tell You by Hannah Beckerman

By  0 Comments

If Only I Could Tell You by Hannah Beckerman is the bittersweet story of a family filled with hatred, lies and complex relationships that will never be straightened out unless Audrey, the matriarch, can get her two daughters, Lily and Jess, to put aside their differences and make the last few months of her life happy and joyful. Yet, that’s a big wish.

The novel begins with Audrey visiting her oncologist for a second time and learning that her cancer is spreading more rapidly than predicted. She leaves the doctor’s office in a pensive mood. She has just moved in with Jess and needs to unpack her things, but every little thing seems so unimportant right now. While unpacking, she picks up one of her old journals and begins to read. She is amused by the things she had planned for her life that she never accomplished.

Since she has so little time left, probably less than 18 months, according to the doctor, she wants to get her family straightened out by mending the fences between Lily and Jess—and herself. She wants her two granddaughters to meet and have a relationship, but she really doesn’t know how to start this process.

Though they once loved each other very much, Lily and Jess don’t speak to each other and haven’t done so for nearly 30 years. Jess can’t even stand to be in the same room with Lily. Jess is now a struggling single mom with an 18-year-old daughter, Phoebe. Lily is a well-to-do marketing professional married to Daniel, a millionaire entertainment lawyer.

It all began when Zoe, Jess’ twin sister, was dying from leukemia. Audrey insisted that Zoe spend the remaining days of her life at home. It was hard on everyone; Lily was 15; Jess, 10; and the parents, Audrey and Edward, had many arguments during those days, and the children heard snippets that they misunderstood and misinterpreted.

On the day of Zoe’s death, Jess sees Lily coming out of Zoe’s room. She wants to go in, but Lily won’t let her. She reminds Jess that she isn’t supposed to disturb Zoe in the morning but to let her sleep. Lily looks so guilty that Jess, with the certainty that only children have, jumps to a conclusion. She is wrong, but it takes her three decades to find out the truth. Lily, on the other hand, never knew what she did to make Jess hate her so. The misunderstanding ruins most of their adult lives.

The novel is about a subject that many people struggle with at some point in their lives—assisted death. She tells the story from many different points of view and allows us to absorb the arguments for each side. Many people firmly believe there are no circumstances that would allow assisted death of a human being even though we do so with our pets. Others believe that under certain circumstances, assisted death should be allowed. It is up to the reader to decide what she believes following the arguments that Beckerman lays out.

The novel is slow to get into and at times hard to believe. I found it hard to believe that a woman with stage four breast cancer could have enough breath control to sing or to be the soloist for a “put-together” choir. Another point that was hard to swallow was the flight from London to New York, a seven-hour-trip plus security and customs. Flying can be exhausting, so I have trouble believing that Audrey could go through security, fly over to New York, go through customs and walk to Central Park the same day. I don’t think so. Having strong willpower is one thing, but a terminal illness takes its toll. Audrey is trying to fulfill some of the items on her bucket list and keep her daughters in the dark about how ill she really is, but still.

Hannah Beckerman is an accomplished television producer and commissioning editor. She has worked as a book critic and a features writer, has chaired literary festivals and has been a judge for numerous book prizes. In other words, she knows what she is doing, and this, her second novel, proves it.

Beckerman’s television experience comes in handy for writing cliff-hanging scenes that make you want to continue turning the pages. What has Lily done that makes Jess hate her so much? Is that all or does Beckerman have other surprises in store for the reader?

Nevertheless, there are several surprises along the way. The themes of the story are interesting although the plotting is a little farfetched at times. Even so, it’s a good read for the book lovers during this prolonged stay-at-home period in our lives. ■