"Reading someone else's e-mail is a quiet, clean enterprise. There is no pitter-pattering around the room, no opening and closing the desk drawers, no percussive creasing as you draw the paper from the envelope and unfold it. No smudge of ink, no greasy thumbprint left behind. It could be the work of a ghost, this electronic eavesdropping."
Disobedience is the story of the Shaw family, as told by seventeen year-old Henry Shaw. Early in his final high school year, Henry stumbles into his mother's Internet account and reads her e-mail. He discovers she's having an affair. In an instant, the picture of his ideal family is replaced by the brutally honest truth.
Jane Hamilton's fourth book examines the Shaw family through Henry's perspective. Father Kevin is a high school teacher and mother Beth is an accomplished pianist. Bringing up the rear is thirteen year-old Elvira, whose energy is devoted to passing as a boy in hard-core Civil War reenactment circles.
Henry is observant, drawing conclusions and executing reactions well beyond his years. Hamilton authenticates her narrator by combining natural teenage sarcasm and the arrogance of and exceptionally intelligent boy.
Disobedience moves forward through the year. Henry continues to secretly read his mother's e-mail and study her behavior.
"To picture my mother a lover, I had at first to break her in my mind's eye, hold her over my knee, like a stick, bust her in two. When that was done, when I had changed her like that, I could see her in a different way. I could put her through the motions like a jointed puppet, all dancy in the limbs, loose, nothing to hold her up but me."
There is great drama as Beth maintains her affair, Henry keeps his secret and the Shaw family continues to spin out of orbit. Henry plays with his mother's emotions to entertain himself and hide is pain. The climactic moment that eventually leads to revelation is a bit odd, though unique. The resolution doesn't quite meet the intensity of the build-up of the tale. Still, the plot's path alone makes this a worthy read.
Hamilton has a gift for storytelling. Her vivid descriptions of the physical setting as well as the subtleties of life never cease to amaze me. This tale held my absolute attention and I was spellbound by every word. Great fiction has that effect on me. Perhaps Disobedience will do the same for you.