The first few pages of The Secret of Hurricanes are laced with an unusual lyricism. Phrases evoke powerful images in the reader's mind as Pearl Starling, a forty-five-year-old woman who is a virtual hermit, relates her solitary life as a weaver -- and that she is pregnant with a child whose father she will not identify.
Pearl thinks often of the losses suffered by the Kennedy family, identifying with their consuming grief, hinting at her own life and its layer of immutable sorrow. This sorrow is the most scarring emotion Pearl has known in her life. As a young girl, Pearl is loved distantly by her mother and ignored by her alcoholic, womanizing father. The emotions of the family are confined to their small trailer in Waterville, North Carolina. Even now, at forty-five, Pearl lives in that same trailer, alone.
Soon enough, the young Pearl bleeds for attention and affection without any comprehension of boundaries. Her pubescent body seeks this attention from the opposite sex, older boys from a nearby military base and a neighbor as old as her father. In her extreme naiveté, Pearl does not understand the complications of sexuality. She has no emotional compass, no one to guide her out-of-bounds yearnings, and is drawn to the most dangerous and harmful circumstances.
I have been told that you can assess the degree of a person’s recovery from early emotional trauma by the manner in which they tell their story: the more time spent dwelling on the past, the less actual living is accomplished. It is possible to explore memories and put them finally to rest, moving into the present and revisiting the past as an exercise of memory. Pearl, however, is tied to her crippling experiences and the attendant guilt, unable to break free in her search for emotional satiety that doesn’t exist.
Throughout, Pearl is telling this tale to her unborn child, whom she believes is a daughter. In the end, Pearl speaks of hope, but her actions are those of loss and repetition. The quality of this woman’s motherhood will be determined by the vocabulary she chooses.