The Latest: 'Baby' in peril; life after The Rev

September 05, 2013
  • Suzanne Redfearn's "Hush Little Baby."
Suzanne Redfearn's "Hush Little Baby." (Handout )

Hush Little Baby

Suzanne Redfearn

Grand Central Publishing; 357 pages

If Suzanne Redfearn's "Hush Little Baby" had a second half to equal its first, it might have been a remarkable achievement. For nearly 200 pages, the novel is a spellbinding thriller that wrings suspense out of tiny moments: the looks, gestures and carefully calculated words that make up an abusive marriage. It's when the heroine breaks out of that situation that the book itself begins to roam.

That's a shame, because at its best, "Hush Little Baby" is skillful at evoking a predicament that's all too common — and, as the author notes, often takes place behind closed doors.

The lead character, Jillian Kane, is a successful Laguna Beach architect and mother of two small children. Her husband, Gordon, is a police officer, coach, community hero and, for years, vicious wife-beater and adulterer.

In these early passages, we watch the delicate play-by-play of the Kanes' marriage. Redfearn, a Laguna Beach resident, paints their relationship as a minefield in which any small move can provoke an explosion. With Gordon's moods swinging from charm to violence, Jillian does the careful stepping; we track her decisions as she opts to back off or stand up, as she weaves excuses and scrambles to preserve her image as a content career woman. (In one of the book's most chilling moments, her young daughter gives her a scarf for her birthday in case she gets "smudges" on her neck again; those smudges were bruises from her husband trying to strangle her.)


Then an unexpected act of violence sends Jillian fleeing with the children in tow. It's here, as the three wind their way up the coast and take refuge in the small town of Elmer City, Washington, that the plot starts to strain credibility.

One problem is that the children seem uncannily accepting of the circumstances; after a couple of brief remarks, they barely acknowledge the fact that they've been uprooted from home and separated from their father. And when Jillian strikes up a fast friendship with a local Native American, who dispenses Zenlike wisdom and takes the kids under his wing, it feels a little too ideal to be true.

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