As a family story that has been fictionalized, I can say that Tallahassee writer Judy H. Ray’s first novel, “A Legacy of Betrayals” (Judy H. Ray 2021) is one of the better ones I have read.
It is a retelling of her and her four siblings having to live with an alcoholic father. However, in the novel, the siblings are not mentioned, and it is instead told as one person.
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First, I must admit that I not only know this author, but I was also a part of the critique group that helped shape the story. But Ray, a member of the Tallahassee Writer’s Association, has taken it to another level, entirely. When I left the group, the story was nowhere near 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, unmarried, and expelled by an elite boarding school.
Her parents do not want their disgraced daughter to continue to live with them because, heaven forbid, her father’s business reputation or their social standing in the community might be ruined. Why, her father was even a deacon in their church! So, they did what any self-respecting English couple would do — ship her off to her cousin and her husband in America.
In Boston, after the child named Ned, marked his 11th birthday, his mother is desperate to marry, and meets a man who wants to marry her. But he does not know the truth about her past, because she had always told people that her husband had died.
Now her cousin convinces her to come clean with her fiancée. That didn’t go well because the relationship was started with a lie. He leaves her, but then comes back to her months later with a shocking request that she takes to her cousins.
“I met Philip today for lunch. We had a good talk and he told me he loves me. He has forgiven me for lying to him, but he made it clear he couldn’t accept Ned as his son. He said it would be a daily reminder of the disgrace 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 might be restored and she would be a respectable woman. “No one would look down on me again, especially when I become Mrs. Philip Villier,” she told her cousin Gert.
“He is the only man I’ve met that would even consider marrying me. I want what you and Carl have.”
Ned hears these words as he listens from the stairwell but doesn’t 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 starts what he believes is a chance for a new beginning. Then World War II breaks out.
The book spans many decades and weaves much history throughout. Ray has done excellent research on Naval History to make the period of Ned’s Navy career authentic. The depiction of a very alcoholic father is drawn from firsthand knowledge, but research has shaped it even further.
One might ask why Ned’s wife stayed with him all the abuse she and their son after suffered. The answer is simpler than you would expect. She truly loved him, and he loved her — and that always complicates things.
This is a story of that love, betrayals, and forgiveness, told with a backdrop of history and war, and what war can do to a person’s emotional balance.
I am proud to recommend this book. It is a great read!
Pat Stanford is an award-winning author and poet, a Past President of the Tallahassee Writers Association, and is Immediate Past President of the Florida Authors and Publishers Association.
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