Lauren Adelman, a young widow, has become a recluse in a small beach town, but her quite life is interrupted when a documentarian finds her and she is forced to confront secrets about her family, late husband, and marriage.
They married just after college and Rory became a stand-out player in the National Hockey League. Then, as they appear to have achieved their dreams and their future looks bright, Rory shocks everyone, including Lauren, by announcing that he is giving up hockey and enlisting in the United States Army. After being deployed, Rory died in combat.
Public scrutiny and heartbreak cause Lauren to retreat to her family’s New Jersey beach house and begin work in a local cafe. Expecting to be able to live there alone indefinitely, she is dismayed when her mother, sister, and young nephew move in, as well. It seems that her father made some unfortunate financial decisions that have left her parents struggling and her sister has left her relationship.
And then, to make matters worse, the filmmaker begins snooping around, trying to get Lauren and Rory’s family members to speak on camera. Lauren has no way of knowing that when she relents, agreeing to be interviewed, the trajectory of her life will change dramatically. Over the course of the summer, Lauren learns what really happened to Rory, why he was so determined to join the military, and the secrets that her family members have been keeping.
The Husband Hour is not really a novel about a husband at all. Rather, it’s the story of a young woman who makes the best decisions she can with the information available to her at the time, and the manner in which she reacts when she learns the truth about so many details of her life. It’s also a story about the ways in which her reactions are informed and impacted by the decisions made by other people in her life. The Husband Hour is an insightful and moving exploration of betrayal, deceit, and the destructive power of secrets. But it’s also about Lauren’s discovery of her own strength and resilience, and journey to forgiveness. Through revelations about what really happened to Rory and the impact of those events upon their marriage, Lauren comes to understand that “a husband is just a man. Flawed. Infinitely fallible. The only way marriage works is to forgive and move on.” And that forgiveness is the first step toward peace — even, or perhaps especially, if the husband in question is no longer here. It’s about the power to learn from the past in order to build the future.
Brenner has crafted highly empathetic, believable characters that readers will care deeply about, each of whom is flawed in his/her own way. That is especially true of Lauren. As the story opens, she harbors guilt and regret that have catapulted her into isolation even from those who love her most. Her mother, Beth, feels powerlessness because she cannot help the daughter she knows is emotionally stuck. Brenner credibly takes readers along as Lauren finally opens up, ready to face the truth. However, she must reconcile what she discovers with what she had believed for so long. And reconcile her feelings about her family members in light of the new information. Especially poignant is her relationship with her sister, Stephanie. Their relationship growing up was helped by the fact that they were opposites who did not want the same things so they had no reason to be competitive. However, things changed and a rivalry developed. But Lauren discovers exactly how complicated their relationship truly is as a result of secrets and betrayals, and must sort through the implications for her own life, as well as Stephanie’s and the young nephew that Lauren adores.
The Husband Hour also deals with the timely issue of traumatic brain injuries among professional athletes and soldiers. The failure of team owners, doctors, and athletes and wounded warriors themselves, to properly assess and understand the deadly impact of concussions can have heartbreakingly tragic repercussions, as Brenner illustrates through Rory’s experiences. Matt, the documentary filmmaker relentlessly pursuing details about Rory’s life, is motivated by personal experience. His brother suffered from CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), a degenerative brain disorder, after he returned from serving in Afghanistan. He is convinced that he has found a way to bring awareness to the issue by telling the story of Rory, a professional athlete who suffered a concussion prior to joining the Army and being deployed. As Matt observes, his film will be “bigger than a story about just one war hero. It’s told through that one hero to question a system that fails these athletes, just like it fails our wounded warriors. We live in a society that hails these guys as heroes, then does nothing to help them when they need it.” But the success of his film depends upon Lauren’s cooperation, something she is determined, at the outset, not to provide. She insists that she does not want to be interviewed for the film, determined to “stay on the surface of everything that had happened, not to dig too deep, . . . for her own sanity . . . [and] protect Rory’s reputation.” Eventually, however, Lauren realizes that she needs to know the whole truth in order to find her future.
Brenner delivers a conclusion to the story that is both natural and deeply satisfying. As a result, The Husband Hour resonates long after the last page has been read, and is an excellent selection for book clubs, as there are many themes that lend themselves to discussion.