A Small Indiscretion
by Jan Ellison

Overview -

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE With the emotional complexity of Everything I Never Told You and the psychological suspense of The Girl on the Train, O. Henry Prize winner Jan Ellison delivers a brilliantly paced, beautifully written debut novel about one woman s reckoning with a youthful mistake.  Read more...

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More About A Small Indiscretion by Jan Ellison

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE With the emotional complexity of Everything I Never Told You and the psychological suspense of The Girl on the Train, O. Henry Prize winner Jan Ellison delivers a brilliantly paced, beautifully written debut novel about one woman s reckoning with a youthful mistake.

Part psychological thriller, part character study . . . I peeled back the pages of this book as fast as I could. The Huffington Post

At nineteen, Annie Black trades a bleak future in a washed-out California town for a London winter of drinking and abandon. Twenty years later, she is a San Francisco lighting designer and happily married mother of three who has put her reckless youth behind her. Then a photo from that distant winter in Europe arrives inexplicably in her mailbox, and an old obsession is awakened.
Past and present collide, Annie s marriage falters, and her son takes a car ride that ends with his life hanging in the balance. Now Annie must confront her own transgressions and fight for her family by untangling the mysteries of the turbulent winter that drew an invisible map of her future. Gripping, insightful, and lyrical, A Small Indiscretion announces the arrival of a major new voice in literary suspense as it unfolds a story of denial, passion, forgiveness and the redemptive power of love.
Praise for A Small Indiscretion

Ellison is a tantalizing storyteller . . . moving her story forward with cinematic verve. USA Today
Rich with suspense . . . Lovely writing guides us through, driven by a quiet generosity. San Francisco Chronicle (Book Club pick)
Delicious, lazy-day reading. Just don t underestimate the writing. O: The Oprah Magazine(Editor s Pick)
Rich and detailed . . . The plot explodes delightfully, with suspense and a few twists. Using second-person narration and hypnotic prose, Ellison s debut novel is both juicy and beautifully written. How do I know it s juicy? A stranger started reading it over my shoulder on the New York City subway, and told me he was sorry that I was turning the pages too quickly. Flavorwire

Are those wild college days ever really behind you? Happily married Annie finds out. Cosmopolitan

An impressive fiction debut . . . both a psychological mystery and a study of the divide between desire and duty. San Jose Mercury News
A novel to tear through on a plane ride or on the beach . . . I was drawn into a web of secrets, a world of unrequited love and youthful mistakes that feel heightened and more romantic on the cold winter streets of London, Paris, and Ireland. Bustle
Ellison renders the California landscape with stunning clarity. . . . She writes gracefully, with moments of startling insight. . . . Her first novel is an emotional thriller, skillfully plotted in taut, visual scenes. The Rumpus

To readA Small Indiscretionis to eat fudge before dinner: slightly decadent behavior, highly caloric, and extremely satisfying.. . .An emotional detective story that . . . mirrors real life in ways that surprise and inspire. New York Journal of Books
If you liked Gone Girl for its suspenseful look inside the psychology of a bad marriage, try A Small Indiscretion. . . . It touches many of the same nerves. StyleCaster


  • ISBN-13: 9780812995442
  • ISBN-10: 0812995449
  • Publisher: Random House Inc
  • Publish Date: January 2015
  • Page Count: 323
  • Dimensions: 1 x 6.75 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds

Related Categories

Books > Fiction > Literary
Books > Fiction > Contemporary Women

Publishers Weekly Reviews

Publishers Weekly® Reviews

  • Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
  • Review Date: 2015-01-12
  • Reviewer: Staff

In this debut novel, Annie Black, married for two decades with three children, owns a quaint lighting shop in San Francisco for which she designs fashionable fixtures, and has hired a mysterious young woman who calls herself Emme. But someone sends Annie a photograph in the mail, taken during a wild year Annie spent in London many years ago, and so she returns there seeking to resolve old passions. The story opens with the news that Robbie, Annie's son, has been seriously injured in a car accident, and Emme, who was driving the car, has disappeared. The author then embarks on an overly coincidental story that strains the reader's suspension of disbelief. The book takes the form of a letter written by Annie to Robbie, although we don't know where Robbie is, or whether he's alive. Annie recounts that it was the year she turned 20—the year of Robbie's conception—when she went to work for Malcolm Church, an older man in London with whom she had an affair. Annie also confesses to a passionate involvement with Malcolm's wife's lover, a handsome photographer named Patrick Ardghal, with whom Annie became obsessed, and finally how at the end of this sojourn she met Robbie's father, Jonathan. The book travels back and forth between Annie's memories of that year and the horrific present, in which, after the impulsive trip back to the U.K., her marriage is disintegrating and Robbie's life hangs in the balance. The book is a page-turner but the crazy connections are too orchestrated to be believable, and the epistolary format doesn't fit. Would a mother really tell her son all the sordid details of her sexual past, even if it did reveal something about his patrimony? (Jan.)

BookPage Reviews

The impact of youthful transgressions

O. Henry Prize winner Jan Ellison’s debut novel is a puzzle with the outside pieces finished. Reading it is like compulsively fitting all those revealing middle pieces together. Annie Black, a happily married 40-something San Francisco businesswoman, delves into her careless youth after her 21-year-old son is injured in a car accident. Spinning a tale of the three drunken months she spent in Europe in 1989, she demonstrates how the past can shape the future.

Disillusioned after her alcoholic father abandons the family for another woman, 19-year-old Annie leaves her meager hometown prospects for Europe, securing an office job in London. There, she quickly develops a drinking problem and, when her married boss, Malcolm, takes a shine to her, she gets entangled in a mess of midlife crises and misplaced desires. Malcolm’s wife—with his encouragement—is sleeping with charismatic photographer Patrick. Malcolm hopes Annie will become his own romantic companion. Annie, however, falls hopelessly for the selfish but charming Patrick. Things come to a peak over a fateful Christmas in Paris. When an old photograph arrives in Annie’s mailbox in 2011, she learns that ripples from this event have fanned out for two decades, and now they threaten her marriage and her son’s life.

Annie’s ruminations on past sins and the nature of memory are thoughtful, even when the reliability of her narration is suspect. She is often extremely unlikable. But for much of the book, she is also very young. She reminds us of the times we’ve been selfish, the times we’ve been foolish, the selves we think we’ve escaped. Skillfully weaving two plots, Ellison unveils the details of each, piece by tantalizing piece. Hard to put down despite its heavy tone, A Small Indiscretion asks a big question: Should Annie be forgiven? Should we be forgiven? Fans of family-themed literary fiction will find it compelling.


This article was originally published in the February 2015 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

BAM Customer Reviews