THE GRETCHEN QUESTION (June 2020)
"A thoughtful, and thought-provoking, meditation on love, loss, and legacy."
-- Kirkus Reviews
"Treadway powerfully captures one woman's attempt to live a meaningful existence despite all that she has endured."
-- Publishers Weekly
THE GRETCHEN QUESTION recounts a day in the life of Roberta Chase, who does not have much time left to make peace with the son who's punishing her for withholding his father's true identity. A single mother torn between protecting her only child or revealing herself fully to the people she loves most, Roberta finds herself at war with conflicting loyalties, the increasing betrayal by her own body, the confused love she feels for her oldest friend, and a trauma from her past that casts a deep and possibly permanent shadow not only over her own life, but over the legacy she will bestow upon her son. Portraying the most intense and even shameful moments of motherhood, and the things we leave unsaid even to those we want most to hear them, the novel is also a celebration of one woman's private reckoning with the source of her life's most profound pain―as well as its greatest pleasure.
"Absolutely spellbinding, utterly deceptive in its brevity, Jessica Treadway's new novel packs into a single day of a single life one of the most haunting stories I have ever read about the price we pay for the secrets we keep. It is also about friendship, motherhood, mortality, the meaning of work, and the search for lasting love: yes, all of that. Open it now." —Julia Glass, National Book Award winning author of THREE JUNES
"THE GRETCHEN QUESTION is a powerful and emotional ride with disorienting, satisfying turns and a stunning end. Treadway is masterful." —Lily King, author of Euphoria and Writers & Lovers
READ AN EXCERPT:
After dessert, Jack said as he did every year that it was time to go outside and walk off the bird. We went for our traditional post-Thanksgiving ramble through the part of the woods that hadn't been razed yet for the new development. I tried not to think that it would probably be my last one. Secretly, I hoped that Trudy Foote and the others fighting the developer would win, so there'd always be a place for Grettie to walk and think of me.
Maybe Sosi would stay in the picture and maybe she wouldn't. It wasn't for me to say. I just wanted my son to be happy, that's all. That's all I want.
Grettie sent us home with lots of leftovers, as she always did. I tried not to notice Bella's tearfulness when she kissed me good-bye, or the way Cam made a point of looking directly into my eyes when he said, "I'm so glad to see you, Burp"—he'd never given up his childhood name for me—before having to clear his throat. Sosi fell asleep in the car on the way home, even though it was only a ten-minute drive. In the rear-view, I saw her lean her head against Will's shoulder. He reached around with the other arm to close her in. I suppose I could have said something to him then, but it wasn't the right time. And who knew how lightly she might be sleeping?
I had thought that telling Will about the cancer returning would make me feel less alone in what was happening to me. But watching him pull Sosi snug to his chest, I saw that they were a closed system. I understood: between them, they could identify only one of their four biological parents. Of course that must have been fertile soil for the seeds of their attachment. I was happy for him, but it made me feel all the more acutely that I was on the outside looking in. I realized that whenever I did tell him about the recurrence, it probably wouldn't bring me the relief I'd hoped for.
At home, helping me put the food away while he was in his room, Sosi murmured, "You love Grettie, don't you?"
I wondered if she noticed that my hands jumped a little as they placed the foil wraps in the fridge. "Of course I love her. She's my best friend. And Will's godmother." It was all I could do not to take one of those hands and press it against my chest, because of the flutter I felt there. But I wouldn't have wanted Sosi to see this—it would have given her information I didn't want her, of all people, to have.
"No, I don't mean just that." She shook that red hair of hers. "Not like a friend. You love her, I think. That's what it looks like to me."
Was she trembling inside when she said this? I couldn't tell if it intimidated her in any way, to assert such a thing to the mother of her boyfriend. How was she so confident of herself, so young? Or was it just that the wine had given her courage?
Doing my best to keep my voice steady I told her, "I'm not sure why you're saying these things to me."
She gave an expression I interpreted as a smirk, until I saw that it was not mean. "Does he know?" she asked, as she nodded in the direction of Will's room. "Does she?"
Thank goodness Will came out of the bedroom then, and asked what all the whispering was about. "Girl talk," Sosi said, shrugging, leading me to feel reassured (though how could I be sure?) that she wouldn't mention her suspicions to him.
Couldn't she have asked me something else, like what Will had been like as a child, or where I had grown up, or whether I liked my job? But no. "You love Grettie, don't you?" No one, not even Grettie, had understood me so well after so little time.