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Book Review: Two Weeks Since My Last Confession by Kate Genovese

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Two Weeks Since My Last Confession is a novel by Kate Genovese. It is a family saga, featuring the O’Briens from Boston, Massachusetts. On the face of things, the O’Briens are an upstanding pillar of the community. John O’Brien is a politician, a senator no less, and a respected and long-term incumbent to boot. Marie, Mrs. O’Brien is a devout Catholic with five children. She is determined that they should be raised in such a way that ensures they develop values and respect rules. She fails.

The story centres on two siblings of the O’Brien household, and sets their stories in parallel, spanning three decades up to the 1980s. Molly and Sean are separated by several years, Sean being the older. Molly is the more impetuous of the two, Sean, in his own way, the less predictable. Things at home turn very sour indeed when Molly claims she is sexually abused by her brother. She complains to her mother, who blames her daughter for raising such ideas in the hothouse of her over-active imagination. She tells her father, who seems to be equally dismissive, being always more interested in the preservation of his own privilege and public face. It is only a long time later that she learns her father did, indeed, speak to Sean. They are words that the boy resents, for he has no recollection of having done anything.

Essentially, Two Weeks Since My Last Confession deals with the on-going consequences of these reactions which, at the time, were generated for merely rational reasons, their intended consequences designed to heal rather than harm. Events are described from the individual perspectives of the two children, Molly and Sean.

The O’Briens are shot through with tension, hypocrisy, deceit and, indeed, corruption. They are perhaps a fairly standard family beneath the sheen of respect. When the lad misbehaves, his senator father pulls strings so that nothing will come of the issue and, importantly, there will be no record kept. The senator is a rampant womanizer and two timer; his clearly unhappy wife thus trapped in a marriage her religion would never contemplate ending. Sean gets up to some pretty naughty things before, during and after his tour of duty in Vietnam, but the experience of war does change him, so that his life is transformed. As he matures, he begins to understand and come to terms with the origin of the psychological demons that have haunted him since boyhood.

But it is Molly, more formally Maureen Bridget whenever her mother scolds her, who provides the centrepiece of the story. Her life is a tale of deterioration, a personal tragedy that affects all around her.

In Bobby Angelo, she finds a perfect boyfriend at an age when she is just too young to convince others her feelings are sincere. She develops an early, rich, sexual relationship with Bobby, who seems to be a likeable boy of Italian descent. He is convinced he is destined for stardom as a baseball player and somehow it just doesn’t work out with Molly.

In fact, it actually worked out a little too well with Molly, but he is ignorant of this when he goes off to college. Molly is thus prevented from attending college herself and she takes up a career in health care. She has already smoked dope, as have most of her peers, and she has tried a few other things. Her professional activities facilitate her access to drugs, of course, and she begins to try something different, and then a little more, and a little more still. And so she drifts into a destitution of addiction. But it is a state that allows her to continue a semblance of a normal life for many years.

The book describes the history of the whole family, however, in order to fill out details of the two principal characters’ lives. There are marriages and births – sometimes in that order, some more marriages, plenty of divorces, more births, domestic abuse, success, wealth, failure. There are breakdowns, rehab centres, a Vietnam War and pop culture. And so the characters inhabit a confused two decades to emerge older, wiser perhaps, more stable perhaps, certainly awaiting what life will throw at them next.

Ultimately, the book is an examination of abuse and its consequences, both direct and incidental. The childhood traumas that centred on Molly and Sean resurface, demand attention, regularly reassert their control of lives. They have been denied. They will not go away. And again ultimately the book has a message of hope, as the skeletons in the cupboard are eventually brought out into daylight and positively buried.

Life can be a messy process, with events becoming confused, subconsciously rejected or unacknowledged. But things do catch up with you in the end. The mistakes are truly easy to make, but unpicking their consequences can be an intricate, delicate and lengthy task.

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