Recently published by Deeds Publishing, Shadow of a Smile takes its name from Johnny Mercer’s “The Shadow of Your Smile,” a song that helped launch Anastasia Springfield’s brief singing career. Anastasia is 30-year-old Meredith Springfield’s mother, and she has a lot of secrets that Meredith discovers when Anastasia unexpectedly dies of a heart attack.
This is mostly Meredith’s story. She’s the protagonist, but it’s also Anastasia’s story through diaries, which are given to Meredith by her mother’s attorney along with a shockingly hefty annuity of half a million dollars. The money is a mystery because Anastasia was a hairdresser working out of her home. Where did it come from?
In going through her mother’s belongings to clean everything out of her home in Milwaukee, Meredith opens a trunk that holds her birth certificate and several photographs. Her mother had always told Meredith that she had been born in California and that her father had died in a car crash shortly afterwards. But the birth certificate reveals that she was actually born in Milwaukee, and the photos, which her mother had always said had been destroyed, show her looking gloriously happy and standing arm-in-arm with a man holding a saxophone. The man, Meredith realizes, must be her father.
Why did her mother lie? When Meredith reads the first of the diaries written between 1960 and 1962, her mother’s past begins to open. But Meredith wants to learn more, and she wants to find people who were important to her mother and who may be important to her, too. She decides to embark on a road trip covering what’s left of Route 66 that her own mother at age twenty took in January 1960 from freezing Milwaukee to sunny L.A. When Meredith’s boyfriend, Derek, asks if she wants him to come with her, she says:
“More than anything. But I can’t ask you to drop everything and go on some wild goose chase across the country. I don’t even know if these people are in California anymore, and she [Anastasia] didn’t tell me their last name, so I may not even be able to find them. I’m not actually sure I want to, but I have to understand what this is all about. I’ll never have any peace until I do.”
Connors is an Atlanta-based writer and president of the Atlanta Writers Club, of which I am a member. I reviewed her previous book, In Her Keeping, about a year ago.
I enjoyed reading this latest book. Connors does a good job writing about complicated relationships. As George Weinstein, another local writer and former president of the AWC, says in his endorsement:
Shadow of a Smile examines the large price paid for secrets and cover-ups, not just by the perpetrators but also by generations before and after them. Ms. Connors has written a novel for anyone who likes family and relationship stories that are emotional, complex, and altogether satisfying.
Do you enjoy reading books that probe the complexities of families that keep secrets from other family members? Why?