More than you will ever know
By Katie Gutiérrez
Penguin, UK
ISBN: 978-0241529980
435 pp.

Secrets are not just burdens we carry; they also act as shields in the face of adversity. Especially in an inherently patriarchal society, women often hide some aspects of their lives to protect themselves from dangers, preserve their identity and free themselves from the grip of social expectations.

Using these notions as a springboard for a fictional narrative, Katie Gutierrez’s debut novel More Than You Ever Know offers a poignant study of the secrets women keep to survive and the dangers that may emerge from their discovery.

Featuring an offbeat plot that explores how one woman’s decision to lead a double life results in betrayal, death, and tragedy, this is not an uplifting tale that preaches the merits of monogamy, fidelity, and moral righteousness. Instead, Gutierrez presents a moving meditation on the difficult choices women make as they balance personal ambition with the taxing demands of motherhood.

The storyline draws its creative force from American society’s growing concern with true crime content, a genre criticized for unduly marketing true crime episodes for entertainment value.

A debut novel with a memorable plot offers a poignant study of the secrets women keep to survive and the dangers that may emerge from their discovery

Indoctrination would have us believe that violence against white women makes up the lion’s share of homicidal acts in the United States, but statistics have challenged these short-sighted assumptions. More Than You Ever Know further outlines this fact by focusing on the plight of a protagonist who is a black woman.

However, Lore Rivera is not, as she often appears in true crime content, the stereotypical victim murdered in cold blood. On the contrary, he is a catalyst, if not a perpetrator, of a crime.

In the recession-filled 1980s, bank clerk Lore lives in Laredo, Texas with her husband Fabian and their twin boys. She is the main breadwinner, while her husband struggles to keep her business afloat. Caught in the banality of married life and the unexpected pressures of motherhood, Lore is looking for a life-changing adventure that can restore her self-confidence.

Opportunity presents itself when she attends a wedding in New Mexico, and a seemingly innocent dance with a stranger named Andres Russo becomes the basis for a secret wedding. But her secret life as a bigamist devoted to her two families is shattered when Fabian kills Andres.

True-crime blogger Cassie Bowman discovers Lore’s story through an article written in 2017 and, intrigued by Lore’s unconventional choices, wants to write a book that faithfully documents her story. After careful consideration, Lore agrees to talk to Cassie on the condition that she not talk about the events that unfolded on the day Andres died.

As Lore peels away the layers of mystery surrounding her violent and traumatic past, Cassie draws her own conclusions about the murder, which are colored by her own experience of a family tragedy.

At its core, More Than You Ever Know examines the extent to which power dynamics can influence the way truth is told. Throughout the novel, Lore and Cassie are locked in a silent but powerful struggle to take control of the narrative surrounding Andres’ death.

Lore would like the book about her life to operate within specific parameters and preserve the secrets she has kept throughout her life. Meanwhile, Cassie is driven by a serious search for the truth and occasionally ends up taking on the role of a suspicious detective rather than a reporter of facts.

Opportunity presents itself when she attends a wedding in New Mexico, and a seemingly innocent dance with a stranger named Andres Russo becomes the basis for a secret wedding. But her secret life as a bigamist devoted to her two families is shattered when Fabian kills Andres.

Oddly enough, these conflicting priorities rarely result in clashes between the two women. In fact, an unlikely friendship blossoms, fueled by a mix of empathy and good will. Throughout their conversations, Lore and Cassie act as a mirror to each other and become keepers of secrets they can’t tell anyone else.

Be that as it may, a silent struggle for control continues to cast a shadow over their bond, but both women eventually find the space and creative freedom to safeguard their own self-interests, albeit with mixed results.

More Than You Ever Know takes an intimate look at the complex negotiations women face as they navigate the challenges of motherhood. Gutierrez passes no judgment on Lore’s inadequacies as a mother and even points out her boundless ability to love Andres’ children as much as her own. But she also acknowledges the fact that motherhood is a fundamental responsibility that can affect children’s well-being and make or break their future: Cassie, for example, is a product of her mother’s poor choices that have long-term consequences on her relationship. with his family.

Love remains central to the story, even if the romantic relationships the characters form are inherently flawed. Gutierrez emphasizes the meaning of lasting love that is based on sacrifices and helps us deal with emotional catastrophes.

Furthermore, love is depicted as an unbridled force that cannot be governed by social conventions. The only lesson that can be learned from Cassie and Lore’s experiences is that love, in all its manifestations, cannot be rashly pursued or demonstrated without caution.

In telling their story, the author does not hold the two protagonists captive to the detached voice of a third-person narrator. Cassie’s ambitions and the root of her trauma are presented through a first-person perspective. Lore’s flashbacks from the 1980s are rendered in the third person to give readers an opportunity to understand the intricacies of her chaotic life. But her observations about Cassie’s current concerns, and her curiosity about the past, follow a confessional mode and are, therefore, presented in the first person.

Sometimes, this technique results in repetitions that could have been avoided through stronger editorial input. However, these errors can be overlooked as the novel has a memorable plot and characters that seem to dance off the page and take on a life of their own.

These characters are carefully etched, but readers may find it difficult to relate to the choices they make, even if they are driven by the spirit of collective well-being rather than personal fulfillment. Readers are therefore invited to approach the text with empathy for those who have to fight hard battles to survive difficult circumstances.

Sticks to accuracy and clarity may, meanwhile, raise concerns about the Spanish words and phrases Lore relies on as crutches during her monologues and in her conversations with Cassie. Like her questionable choices, Lore’s bilingualism is a dominant feature of the novel, and while it certainly reinforces its unique identity and authenticity, the frequency of use is a bit excessive.

In some cases, unfamiliar words can be understood in context; in other cases, the sentences stand out as anomalies and are in desperate need of a clear explanation. Just like Cassie, who occasionally has to Google phrases that are foreign to her, she advises readers to do their own research online rather than looking for answers in text.

Language barriers aside, More Than You Ever Know is a powerful indictment of marriage, womanhood and love, and a brilliant reminder of the pitfalls of being human in a world where our choices are subject to constant check.

The reviewer is the author of Typically Tanya and co-editor of The Stained-Glass Window: Stories of the Pandemic from Pakistan.
Tweet @TahaKehar

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, January 1, 2023

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