Hongmei is the perfect Asian wife: beautiful, diligent, and passive. She lives a quiet life in Northern California with her husband, Glen, an intelligent and caring college professor. But when a mysterious person begins to email her, Hongmei can't resist and soon finds herself enthralled in a psychological cat-and-mouse game.
... deliciously dark and twisty ... What makes Hongmei, Glen, the secret talker, and the rest of Yan's small cast of characters so fascinating is that you believe they might be capable of anything. This is especially true as we dive deeper into Hongmei's past and get tantalizing glimpses into the truth of her relationship with Glen ... The final twist is satisfying and well-executed, and late enough that I wondered if it would come at all. Immediately, I wanted to reread the whole book and dig up the clues I might have missed — always a good sign after you finish a mystery, and The Secret Talker is an excellent one. Searing and delicately brutal, it strikes at the heart of what makes a relationship implode.
The story has a Hitchcockian feel, down to its northern California setting. It’s not terribly difficult to figure out the stranger’s identity, but Yan’s pacing keeps the pages turning. In this day and age, Hongmei continuing to correspond with this strange person might come across as a bit frustrating; that it does not is in part due to the expertise of translator Jeremy Tiang.
In this slim, tricky novel, [Yan] is less concerned with plausible motivations than with the emotions that consume us when we force ourselves to confront our past and our secret ... As the novel pushes to its close, full of missed connections and climactic confrontations, it becomes more fully a story about the toxicity of repression than about ill-advised online banter ... A more realistic novel might have given Hongmei a different way to share her anxieties. But in this one, the tension between her need to express herself and her questionable method for doing so is affecting, even at times touching ... flawed conceptually, but it succeeds at bringing the mood of an existential novel to a hair-raising thriller.