The Face Tells the Secret (Paperback)
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Everything has been hidden from Roxanne G.—her birth name, her sister, her family history—until her “boyfriend” tries to ingratiate himself by flying in her estranged mother from Tel Aviv. That visit is the start of a tumultuous journey, in which she first learns about a profoundly disabled sister who lives in a residential community in the Galilee and later begins to unearth disturbing long-held family secrets. The process of facing this history and acknowledging the ways she’s been shaped by it will enable Roxanne to forge the kinds of meaningful connections that had for so long been elusive. In this way, The Face Tells the Secret is the story about a woman who finds love and learns how to open herself to its pleasures. The Face Tells the Secret is also a story that explores disability from many angles and raises questions about our responsibility to care for our kin. How far should Roxanne go to care for the wounded people in her life—her mother, her sister, the man who professes undying love? What should she take on? When is it necessary to turn away from someone’s suffering?
About the Author
Jane Bernstein is the author of two novels, three memoirs, and a children’s book she cowrote with her daughter. Her essays, which have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Creative Nonfiction, The Sun, and many other journals, have been anthologized in such places as True Stories Well Told, Love You to Pieces, and Best American Sports Writing 2018. She is the recipient of two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships and a Fulbright Fellowship and is a member of the Creative Writing Program at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
"In Jane Bernstein’s thoughtful, character-driven novel The Face Tells the Secret, a woman struggles with new knowledge about her unhappy childhood. Roxanne was never close to her mother, Leona, who prided herself on not being maternal and who is now going senile. She is reluctant about caring for Leona, but then she learns something unexpected: she has a disabled sister whom her parents gave up decades ago. As she grapples with this news and what it reveals about her parents, Roxanne learns to bond with the family she never knew and grow past her parents’ mistakes. In the sometimes stream-of-consciousness narrative, Roxanne’s complex feelings about her mother and her family are crystal clear. Raw and soul-baring, she expresses a desire to help those around her. She feels selfish for having needs of her own, and attributes this unhealthy attitude to neglectful Leona, whom she both loves and hates. Roxanne’s struggles are enhanced by her setting. Much of the story takes place in Tel Aviv, a locale that is filtered through Roxanne’s divided state of mind. Captured as a mixture of beauty and tragedy, it produces both positive and negative associations. Characters come alive through anecdotes large and small. Leona, in particular, pervades the story. Each of her acts of callousness gets under Roxanne’s skin, and her former sharpness becomes a tragic counterpoint to her decline and ultimate fate. In the end, despite her lingering regrets, Roxanne is able to come to terms with the past and live the life that’s best for her and her loved ones. The Face Tells the Secret is a poignant novel about moving ahead when the past won’t stop bleeding into the present." — Eileen Gonzalez, Foreword Reviews
"Jane Bernstein is an accomplished novelist, screenwriter, and essayist. Her three memoirs — Bereft, about an older sister who was murdered in 1966, and Loving Rachel and Rachel in the World, about her daughter’s struggles with intellectual disabilities — are incisive, critically acclaimed works. The easy description of The Face might read, "middle-aged woman seeking love discovers a family secret." But the novel transcends what could have been Hallmark material by way of the author’s ability to create fresh landscapes and flawed characters."—Rege Behe, Pittsburgh City Paper