As a family story that has been fictionalized, I can say that Tallahassee writer Judy H. Ray’s debut novel, “A Legacy of Betrayals” (Judy H. Ray 2021) is one of the best that I read.
It is a tale of her and her four siblings having to live with an alcoholic father. However, in the novel, siblings are not mentioned, and he is instead told as one person.
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First of all, I have to admit that not only do I know this author, but I was also part of the review group that helped shape the story. But Ray, a member of the Tallahassee Writers’ Association, took it to a whole new level. When I left the band, the story wasn’t nearly as complete or as compelling as this book is now.
The story begins in 1912 London, England, where 17-year-old Hillary Dearborn finds herself pregnant, single, and expelled from an elite boarding school.
Her parents do not want their disgraced daughter to continue living with them because, God forbid, her father’s business reputation or social position in the community could be ruined. Why, his father was even a deacon in their church! So they did what any self-respecting English couple would do: ship him off to his cousin and her husband in America.
In Boston, after the child named Ned celebrates his 11th birthday, his mother is desperate to get married and meets a man who wants to marry her. But he doesn’t know the truth about her past, because she had always told people that her husband was dead.
Now her cousin convinces her to tell the truth with his fiancée. It didn’t go well because the relationship started with a lie. He leaves her, but returns to her months later with a shocking request she makes to her cousins.
“I met Philip today for lunch. We had a good chat and he told me he loved me. He forgave me for lying to him, but he made it clear to me that “He couldn’t accept Ned as his son. He said it would be a daily reminder of the shame an illegitimate child brings to the family.
Hillary then does the unthinkable and asks her cousins to adopt Ned. She felt that with this marriage, her relationship with her parents could be restored and she would be a respectable woman. “No one will look down on me anymore, especially when I become Mrs. Philip Villier,” she told her cousin Gert.
“He’s the only man I’ve met who would even consider marrying me. I want what you and Carl have.
Ned hears these words as he listens from the stairwell but does not understand. He naturally feels betrayed, which begins the long list of betrayals to and by him, including betrayals to his own wife and son.
After high school, Ned meets and marries the love of his life. Joins the Navy and begins what he believes to be a chance for a fresh start. Then World War II broke out.
The book spans several decades and weaves a lot of history throughout. Ray has done excellent research on naval history to make authentic the period of Ned’s naval career. The depiction of a heavily alcoholic father is drawn from first-hand knowledge, but research has shaped it even more.
One might wonder why Ned’s wife stayed with him after all the abuse she and their son suffered afterwards. The answer is simpler than you might think. She really loved him, and he loved her – and that always complicates things.
It’s a story of that love, those betrayals and that forgiveness, told against the backdrop of history and war, and what war can do to a person’s emotional balance.
I am proud to recommend this book. It’s an excellent read!
Pat Stanford is an award-winning author and poet, past president of the Tallahassee Writers Association and past president of the Florida Authors and Publishers Association.
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