Review

The Worst Thing I’ve Done

by Ursula Hegi

Annie drives at night, eating junk food and listening to talk
radio psychologists. It’s no wonder, as her husband Mason has
recently hung himself in her studio. Nor is this the first
wrenching disaster Annie has had to deal with. On her wedding day
eight years ago, her father and her pregnant mother both died in a
car crash, leaving her and Mason to raise Annie’s baby sister
Opal. But the young couple, who have known each other all their
lives, rises valiantly and successfully to the occasion. Mason in
particular is able to enter into a child’s world and jolly
the fiery Opal out of her impetuous tantrums. But now Mason is
gone, and Annie is left with Opal and her guilt over Mason’s
death. 

 

The third party to the adult triangle is Jake, who was always there
--- the steady one, Mason’s best friend since childhood,
hopelessly in love with Annie. Add a dose of compulsive jealousy on
Mason’s part and a late night in a sauna, and you have the
ingredients for the causal tragedy --- the worst thing
they’ve done? --- that sets the scene for the
novel. 

 

Since we know so much so early, the only tension the novel provides
is how Annie and Opal will muddle through the pain (and in
Annie’s case, the guilt) of losing Mason. Ursula Hegi teases
the reader with snippets of Mason’s long suicide note
(presented in a different typeset) in between the chapters of the
other characters’ points of view. And we hear from them all
--- Annie, Opal, Aunt Stormy, a friend of Annie’s mother with
whom they are staying, and eventually Jake. Annie is a collage
artist, and the book itself is put together like a collage, with
layers of each character for materials. The descriptions of Long
Island and Aunt Stormy’s modest old house are lyrical and
beautifully done. The sea, the plants and the wildlife all seem to
be characters in the book, and they provide a welcome relief to the
maudlin goings-on of the humans.

 

I confess to losing interest in the characters --- Opal, frankly,
is a spoiled brat --- and much of the plot (for instance, the fatal
parental accident on the day of their wedding) was hard for me to
swallow. The liberties Hegi takes with points of view distracted
me. Opal rarely sounds like an eight-year-old in her sections, and
she relates scenes that happened when she was a baby as if she has
total recall of them (did Annie really tell her the exact moment
that Opal leaned back into Annie and Annie scratched her head?).
Aunt Stormy, the wise and good earth-mother type, takes Annie along
to protests against Bush and the Iraq War. I share their political
views, but their presence in the book seems forced. At one point
the kind Aunt Stormy gently straightens out a new protester who has
brought a peace sign that looks like the Mercedes logo.
Right. 

 

At least Pete, Aunt Stormy’s great love who lives next door
in his own house but sleeps in her bed, does not inflict his point
of view. Fortunate because, due to a recent stroke, he talks like
this: “Yes, but...I only find…things…I’ve
stopped looking…for.” As a matter of fact, the
punctuation gods have been extraordinarily generous with this book,
which swims with ellipses, italics, different typesets and our good
friend --- the dash.          

 

Through it all Annie stubbornly refuses to see Jake or allow Opal
to see him. After a couple of months, though, she acquiesces. Will
she accept this kind, steady man already so implicated in her life
and sad story? Will the salubrious effects of time and seashore and
radio psychologists and art and patience grant Annie and Opal some
peace? What, after all, is the worst thing Annie or Mason or Jake
has done? If, like me, you loved STONES FROM THE RIVER, you may be
put off by the soap opera quality of Hegi’s latest
effort.









Reviewed by Eileen Zimmerman Nicol on January 24, 2011

The Worst Thing I’ve Done
by Ursula Hegi

  • Publication Date: October 2, 2007
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone
  • ISBN-10: 1416543759
  • ISBN-13: 9781416543756