The Secret of Rose-Anne Riley by Shaw J. Dallal
Lanham, Maryland. Hamilton Books / Rowman & Littlefield. 2013. ISBN 9780761861744
The secret of Rose-Anne Riley was that she had been raped in her youth by Philip Arlington, the brash only son of a wealthy family in whose house she worked as a cleaner. The boy’s family paid Rose-Anne’s a large sum of money in settlement, and Rose-Anne gave birth to a baby girl she named Carla. Fifty-five years later and just before her death, Rose-Anne tells this secret to her granddaughter, Alexia, who was her beloved confidante and constant companion, and asks her to keep it from everyone and to be careful in relationships with boys. Carla, now married with twin children, Alexia and Johnny, eventually learns from her uncle that she was a rape child and that the rapist had become a respected and wealthy bishop. Having been brought up by a stepfather, she tells her husband, Michael, and also her twin children that she intends to seek acquaintance with her real father. They all support her but consider unpalatable any close relation with one who is, they think, a “monster” and a criminal, particularly Alexia, who had known the secret before them and suffered from it.
It is around this simple plot that Shaw J. Dallal, emeritus professor of Middle East studies at Colgate University, weaves his sensitively written second novel, his first being Scattered Like Seeds (1999). It is a novel of feelings and conflicted attitudes, and Dallal deftly develops it through dialogues, some of which are mundane and quotidian and lengthen the novel unnecessarily. But some are serious, like those questioning God’s omnipotence and goodness in relation to the existence of evil in the world.
Carla and her family meet Bishop Philip Arlington—who admits to being Carla’s father and expresses his repentance for his sinful act as a young man—and she changes her attitude toward him and readily forgives him. Her husband does too, but Alexia and Johnny have reservations: Alexia always remembering her grandmother’s description of the sexual violence of the rapist, and Johnny continuing to question the sincerity of the bishop’s fervent expressions of Christian ideals. Even when Johnny relents, Alexia remains haunted by her grandmother’s story, and this feeling depresses her and leads to tragic consequences.
Dallal portrays each of the novel’s characters with deep understanding and sympathy as they go through the difficult situation arising from Alexia’s condition, a condition that is not uncommon in many families. Spanning four generations, this soul-stirring novel is fittingly dedicated by its author “to all victims of rape and their families, who inspired it.”
Issa J. Boullata