After reading Great Expectations I wanted to choose a novel that was a bit lighter in content and Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells seemed just the thing. A number one bestseller when it was published in 1996 Divine Secrets tells the story of four female friends (Viv, Tensey Caro and Neecie) living in Louisiana from the 1930's when they meet as young girls on up to the 1990's when they are grandmothers. A review of the book said if you like the novels of Fannie Flagg (which I do) then Divine Secrets is for you and so I began reading hopefully but the deeper I got into the book the more I struggled to finish Divine Secrets.
Part of the reason I think is that despite the Ya-Ya Sisterhood title this is not really a book about four female friends where we follow each of them through marriages, careers, children, divorce, triumphs and tragedies. Divine Secrets keeps its focus on the life of only one of the Ya-Ya women, Viv Walker, and the rift that occurs when her daughter Sidda Walker a successful theater producer gives an interview to the New York Times in which she reveals that her mother hit her as a child. Viv hurt and humiliated back in Louisiana severs contact with Sidda and Sidda devastated by her mother's rejection decides to postpone her wedding. Viv hearing this news feels guilty since when sober she was a great mother but when drunk the demons came out.
So Viv though still mad decides to mail Sidda her scrapbook, The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. Its filled with photographs, mementos, letters detailing the 50 years friendship of the four Ya-Ya women. Each picture that Sidda takes out of the scrapbook tells a story but Sidda only sees the photograph we the reader are told a great deal more. We learn for example that the picture of a handsome young man with his arm around Viv is Jack, the love of Viv's life. Jack will be killed a few years later flying a combat mission in World War II. We learn about the Great Depression and what it was like to attend the opening night of Gone With The Wind. We learn about racism in the South. We learn about Viv's parents, an abusive father who beat his wife and children and a mother who took out her rage on Viv who had spunk and a sense of fun and adventure that her mother never had.
But Sidda knows none of this. All she sees are the photographs of Viv's mother and father who make any parenting mistakes Viv made with Sidda look mild in comparison. As I got deeper into the book I found myself becoming annoyed at Sidda. We spend alot of time with her in the cabin in Seattle as she pours over the old photos, crying, drinking wine and trying to figure out her mother's life. Does Sidda have a right to be angry at Viv? Yes but as one reviewer put it Sidda is not so much angry as obsessed. At one point Viv's friend Caro asks Sidda, "Isn't the scrapbook enough"? And Sidda replies:
"No, it's not enough! It irritates me, it frustrates me to look through that scrapbook and only get inklings, only tiny slivers of information. No explanations no dramatic structure! ... Mama owes me some pointers... "
And Caro points out that Sidda is 40 now and that her mother doesn't owe her anything. Viv wasn't perfect, no mother is, but she did the best she could and she loved her kids and its time for Sidda to move on. Wise advise and Sidda by the end of the book is able to make peace and move on but I had moved on way before that.