The Harp Journal – Summer 2016

Book Review:

Secrets Lost, Secrets Remembered

By Patricia Lennox

In the early pages of Marcia Breece’s very satisfying novel Secrets Lost, Secrets Remembered two mothers carry home buckets of sacred water from St. Coleman’s Well. The place is famine swept County Clare, Ireland, 1838, and the water is for the pre-wedding baths of their children, Patrick David Morgan, and Áine Mary Lowery. The sacred water reflects the healing powers Áine inherits from her mother, a gift she will pass on to some, but not all, of her descendants.  Soon after, the young couple emigrates to America, settling in Dublin, Ohio. Some information about their descendants’ lives continues to be briefly woven in, but this is Morgan Margaret Hill’s story. She is Áine and Patrick’s descendent, inheritor of her ancestress’s red hair, love of harp music and, unknowingly, her mystic powers. Like the author, Morgan is a corporate executive who switched life paths, bought a llama farm and opened a B&B.  The intertwining of fiction and autobiographical reality throughout the story helps balance the misty ghosts of past lives and support the novel’s theme: Morgan’s rediscovery of her dormant spiritual powers, a gift passed on to her in childhood, a secret she had forgotten.

When the story shifts in chapter 2 to the rural west of Washington State where Morgan lives, the setting and people are crisp and clear.  Breece’s women are recognizable, smart, successful, and face very contemporary midlife challenges. This is not ‘girly stuff’ but a realistic look at decisions women make. The choices are multi-layered but when it is between driving a powder blue BMW and a 1955 red Chevy pick-up truck, the metaphor is clear. Admittedly some of the problems are specific to a certain income level—but in this book one of the points is that the money buying the cars, is earned by the women driving them. Breece is also aware of the mixed reality of rural life, the hardship and the beauty. In Áine’s Ireland there is the distraught mother trying to save her starving infant, but also the lovely handmade wedding dress of wool sheared and woven at home and a soft yellow baby’s blanket knitted from milkweed silk. Morgan’s world is full of the complexities of contemporary consumption and the challenges of managing a farm and business.

SECRETS_LOST_COVEROn one level the story works as a very agreeable and attractive ‘Nancy Meyers film,’ but Breece’s goal is clearly to use the setting as a foil for an accessible exploration of layers of spiritual consciousness.  The story pleases with its descriptions of nature, of décor, and of tantalizingly delicious food, but it is Morgan’s exploration of the metaphysical that turns this into a page-turner that is both a romance and a quest. The idealized love story involving the attractive young man, Yuri, has mysteries that keep unfolding, taking a number of unexpected routes offering an interesting variation on the classic “will they or won’t they.”

The book can be read on several levels.  Some readers might want to view the book’s exploration of consciousness as something in the realm of folk tales.  Others will find it a clear introduction to abstract ideas made visible by working them into a story—as storytellers have always done.  For readers familiar with its spiritual concepts, Secrets Lost offers a review or a deepening consideration of beliefs.  No matter what the reader’s attitude toward auras, mystic lights, sprit guides, labyrinths, or revenants, here they blend comfortably with Morgan’s own discoveries. The foundation of her search is the eternal question: What is the best way to live?

Secrets Lost, Secrets Remembered offers not only an engrossing story of love, loss, and recovery, but is a helpful reminder to breath, to let go of anger and to recognize unacknowledged fear. Music runs throughout much of the book, providing a virtual sound track.  There are ancestral tunes on Russian balalaika and old Irish clàrsach, but also contemporary music ranging from jazz to SaraJane William‘s album Harp Music for Healing. Perhaps it is this mix of the imagined and the recognizable, along with the myriad bits of autobiographical information at the book’s core, that makes its spiritual quest register with unexpected solidity and honesty.