A Small Indiscretion by Jan Ellison



Kindle Edition, 336 pages

Published: January 20, 2015 by Random House

Setting: San Francisco


At nineteen, Annie Black left her childhood home in California to spend time in London. She drank heavily and got into two ill-advised romantic entanglements. Twenty years later, she’s a happily married mother of three settled in San Francisco. A strange photograph arrives in her mailbox, causing old feelings to resurface, and a tragic accident excavates long-buried secrets.

The way this story unfolds reminds me a bit of a drawing. First the story is sketched in lightly, then more details are added here and there, then it is finished. I didn’t learn much by the end of the novel that I didn’t know — or suspect — at the beginning. But the picture became more clear and detailed, and the characters more real, as I went along.

I think the Powers that Be in the marketing department did this novel a disservice by comparing it to The Girl on a Train, suggesting that it’s a mystery or “thriller.” It does have elements of mystery and suspense, but there wasn’t much effort made to conceal the “twists” in the story. I found everything that was revealed — including the identity of a certain character — easy to guess. The real strength of the book is the character-driven drama.

We all admire strong female characters in fiction. This protagonist was not so strong, especially when she was young. There’s a quality of passivity — and impulsiveness — in Annie. She didn’t choose so much as she allowed things to happen to her. Looking back on myself as a 19-year-old, I appreciate the honesty of that. And, as often happens, Annie developed greater resolve when she became a mother.

This is a memorable debut novel by a gifted storyteller. It’s an absorbing character-driven story with interesting things to say about relationships, motherhood, and the fallibility of memory.



6 thoughts on “A Small Indiscretion by Jan Ellison

  1. Thank you for your insightful review. I had much the same experience with this one when I read it. And like you, I thought the comparison with The Girl on the Train was misleading. I loved how the author told the story, adding in details as she went.


  2. I often find the comparisons made in marketing a book misleading, and if a book is compared to a recent “best seller,” I’m actually less eager to read it. This doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy reviews that sometimes include points of comparison and contrast to another book; just when the hope is to sell a book by making a comparison to a recent popular title.


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