Imagine visiting the very street in California where you once lived long ago, hoping to visit your parents. You have not seen them or connected with them for many years while you were living in London managing a luxurious hotel. Because you have little recollection of either parent or your own apparently troubled childhood, you have decided to locate family to learn about your own upbringing and reestablish roots. The problem: In your prolonged absence, both parents have died.
This is the take-off point for Dianne Dixon’s captivating tale, The Language of Secrets. Young Justin returns to the U.S. to find both parents deceased. When he visits a homestead that looks like that of his childhood, he sees a woman who surely must be his grown-up sister. Repeatedly he calls out to her trying to explain she is his sister. Suspicious of this insistent stranger, she orders him off her property and hurries inside.
Next, Justin finds his way to the cemetery where his folks are buried. He locates their headstones but to his utter shock, his sits between theirs: Thomas Justin Fisher, August 5, 1972 – February 20, 1976. Incredulous, Justin begins his search for his own being. He hunts clues to his murky inexplicable past.
Author Dixon unravels The Language of Secrets by cleverly flipping back and forth between Justin’s life in the present, and Justin’s agonized childhood. He finds his past was inconceivably painful: parental infidelity, unreasonable misjudgment, horrifying betrayal, along with an almost psychotic resentment early in life by his “father.” So terrible and destructive were these influences that the personality of young Justin dissociated with itself and created a more normal healthy young man with a deeply hidden subconscious past.
At times, author Dixon uses witty language to elicit neat mental pictures.
– "And then all that was left was a shadow of the painting’s shape: a ghost mark on the wall."
– "Echoes and dust were taking possession of the living room…"
– "The etched-glass doorway was shimmering in the afternoon sun, like a column of diamonds."
– "Justin felt as if he were balancing on the edge of a knife blade — one that was cutting between fear and hope."
There were other instances when I found Dixon’s language distracting — wordy, maybe clunky might be a better word.
– "He walked away from his waiting wife and baby and went toward the strange place in which he had accomplished his growing up."
– "The sun’s fading rays were as mild as a milk bath."
Then, too — though this might just be a matter of taste — sometimes her use of passive voice detracts from a sentence's effectiveness.
– "The door was being opened by a man in his late twenties."
– "The number was automatically dialed and rang twice before…"
As a whole, I found Dixon’s The Language of Secrets fascinating, relaxing, and fun to read. Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) is thought to occur when a child is so pained by his existence that he or she creates another self — one that is safer, one that denies awful memories, one that is okay with itself. Dixon's idea of allowing Justin in present time to uncover his pained heritage in past time was a well thought-out way to see the development of both alters.
I would recommend Dixon’s The Language of Secrets to any adult looking for an unusual story, one that is presented in an atypical way. If this is truly her debut novel, I look forward to reading her next tale.