We’re Reading Only Ever Her by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen

 

by Angela Garrison Zontek

“One thing she knows about lies – once they start to stack up, they can topple over, crushing you under the weight of them.”

There’s nothing like small-town drama, no? I grew up in one — a place where it feels like everyone knows everyone — but despite the sharing of recipes, chatter, and church pews,  do we ever truly know our neighbors?

Whalen’s new novel Only Ever Her isn’t so much a who-done-it, as it is a who’s-doing-what. She weaves an entertaining tale that keeps the reader in a state of perpetual suspicion, collecting new tidbits of information and slowly patching them together like one of my grandmother’s intricate wedding quilts. 

“She has to make the town happy. It is her act of service. Her offering on behalf of the greater good. When you’re the only survivor of the town’s darkest moment, you do whatever you can to bring light.”

While Annie tries to plan the biggest wedding the town has seen in a decade, the man convicted of killing her mother reaches out for help in overturning his conviction.  Cordell Lewis claims he was unlawfully convicted, that he is innocent, and since Annie’s childhood testimony was key in his conviction, she feels compelled to engage with the man’s attorney. Annie was the only witness to her mother’s murder, but she was only three years old, so doubt, along with the compulsion to do the right thing, consumes her. 

In the midst of the chaos, Annie vanishes.

“The trick to keeping a secret is you just have to do it every day, day after day” 

As the search for Annie intensifies, the story begins to focus on the cast of characters inhabiting the small town of Ludlow. Each one bears a burden of their own, often in the form of a secret, leaving the reader to piece together what the real backstory might be. Her aunt, cousin, and secret best friend all know Annie in very different ways, and each character brings a new perspective to the mystery of her disappearance.

 Does all of this have something to do with Annie? Or, does none of it? 

Whalen brings the southern town of Ludlow alive with thoughtful, authentic details. Annie and her cousin Clary eat 7-Up chicken on the weekends, just like I did as a girl. They collected Micah rocks as children, for the same reasons every southern kid collects Micah—to sell and get rich. Ludlow felt very much like a town I knew, a place where I had visited a friend of a friend, or maybe our usual stopover on the way to Charleston.  Mayhew clearly knows how to write a small southern town into life. 


For readers in the mood for a good southern scandal, pick up this little gem of a book, and slip away to Ludlow, South Carolina. A

Marybeth Mayhew Whalen is the author of Only Ever Her, as well as seven previous novels. She speaks to women’s groups around the US and is the co-founder of the popular women’s fiction site, She Reads. The mother of six children, Marybeth divides her time between the suburbs of Charlotte, NC and the coastline of Sunset Beach, NC.

Only Ever Her was published May 7, 2019 by Lake Union Publishing.

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