In Stories We Never Told (Lake Union), Sonja Yoerg weaves a tale about deception, obsession, deep wounds, and acceptance in four points view that’s sure to wind readers into its spell.
Jackie Strelitz is a psychology professor who, from a distance, seems to have it all together. She’s happily married to Miles, a professional sports scout and kind man who supports her endeavors. She’s a leader in her field, a respected instructor and researcher, on the verge of greater success in her career. She’s surrounded by a network of both family and friends, including a cordial working and social relationship with her ex-lover, Harlan, that her husband accepts and even encourages.
But what simmers below is a cauldron of secrets, backstory and unresolved feelings that eventually bubble to the surface. We feel the first of its heat when Harlan introduces his new love interest, Jackie’s post-doc, Nasira, which begins to chip away at Jackie’s veneer. Slowly, the author gives readers a peek into Jackie’s obsession and history of her five-year relationship with Harlan, and the reader realizes that Jackie’s current life isn’t situated on a solid foundation. As the novel progresses, Jackie’s obsession becomes a catalyst for conflict; it affects every part of her life. And despite Jackie’s attempt to regain the wheel, she loses control, and veers to a series of events that leads to tragic consequences and threaten to upend everything she worked hard for.
But the author doesn’t stop there. Yoerg builds upon Jackie’s complex characterization with Nasira, Miles and Harlan. In perfect timing, Yoerg exposes their vulnerable histories — also on shaky foundation — and how they play into Jackie’s escalating crisis. Just as Jackie’s nature shows itself in her behaviors, the reader will discover that their initial impressions of these three other characters will be challenged, too. The adage “the truth is somewhere in the middle” applies to this novel, and the precise and clever additions of their histories bring nuance to their characters. From this, I found myself empathizing with all of these characters in some way.
Through four points of view, Yoerg teases out each of these characters’ unreliability as well as the nuances in each of their relationships. The author is a master at character arcs, from which I accepted the fate of these characters. Secondary and tertiary characters were fully fleshed out; each had their own story to tell, if given the same amount of space to reveal themselves. By infusing past history at just the right times, though not predictably, Yoerg controls the peeling of the plot’s layers, a true skill in keeping the pace throughout the book. The result is a character-driven, suspenseful storytelling, but with a hopeful and realistic ending that is both admirable and satisfying.
Stories We Never Told is a study in characterizations and in deeply layered plot. Readers are sure to be swept into its page-turning pace and cast of characters. I highly recommend this book; it bends the genres of domestic suspense and contemporary fiction, and is unexpected and refreshing, such that readers of either genre will enjoy and appreciate it.