“Gerry Williams’s funeral was a shit show.” So begins If We’re Being Honest, a big-hearted debut novel by Cat Shook.
Gerry is the beloved octogenarian patriarch of the Williams family. After his death, his children and grandchildren come from near and far to join his widow, Ellen, in mourning Gerry in their tightknit Georgia hometown. At the funeral, the eulogy is given by Fred, Gerry and Ellen’s best friend. Right off the bat it’s clear that Fred’s been drinking. Then, he drops a bomb: He and Gerry were lovers for decades.
The family is sent reeling: How did their husband, father and grandfather keep this secret for so long? Is it even true? How could it be? Of course, his is not the only secret that’s revealed during the week the family spends together between the funeral and a family friend’s wedding. There’s one cousin who is pregnant out of wedlock, another who can’t help but steer every conversation back to her recent breakup and yet another who’s fresh off a losing stint on The Bachelorette. There are potential affairs, flailing careers and reckonings with sexuality—basically, all the little dramas that will be instantly recognizable to anyone with a sizable family.
Given the number of characters and storylines presented, it’s occasionally tough to follow along with who’s who, but Shook’s storytelling is so compelling that even if it takes a little while to get your bearings, it all eventually makes sense—and is worth the confusion.
For fans of Tracey Lange’s We Are the Brennan’s, Emma Straub’s All Adults Here and Jonathan Tropper’s This Is Where I Leave You, If We’re Being Honest is about the secrets and lies we tell ourselves and others, and the power of family to get us through the very best and very worst parts of life. As a Williams granddaughter says to her on-again, off-again love, “Families are crazy—I mean, look at mine. But it’s what I want. Even if I find out at your funeral that you were sleeping with your best friend the whole time. I mean, I’d rather that didn’t happen. But, yeah.”
Pack this one in your beach bag—it’s a delight.