Two women, an actress and a film director, make a pact to keep a secret about a brutal sexual assault from years earlier in Hollywood. Val recognized one man, a studio CEO, but not the other. The arrest of the CEO more than 25 years later in Invisible Woman, a page turner by Katia Lief, triggers pain for the victims and panic for the unnamed rapist.
The secret goes undiscussed by the two women and erodes the friendship. “Val wanted to forget what had happened, so they avoided talking about it. It was like trying to dance around an open pit – nearly impossible. Eventually the calls stopped.”
Joni, an occasional screenwriter who abandoned her directing career, is trapped in an unpleasant marriage masked by an oversized and gawdy home. She drinks to vanquish unhappy memories. Val, more content, teaches school. “They’d started off in the same place, young and hungry, but only Joni had gone on to a degree of real success and … what? Not fame – it was her husband who was famous now. Riches maybe.” Val’s memories are more vivid than Joni's, wonders how Joni could possibly be happy.
News of the arrest prompts Joni to reflect on her past and recognize her life is a mess, “the gluey sensation of having lost track of Val and time and herself, of having become invisible.” Family photos once signaled a full life, but then Joni noticed that “somewhere along the line, the grin and bear it smile worn by the women of her mother’s generation had found its way onto her face.” She considers reaching out to Val and offering support, but is uncertain: “Of not knowing how far she should go to find her old friend – or if she should leave her alone in what she hoped (but doubted was a comfortable obscurity.”
Joni finds Val on Facebook and the two women arrange a meeting at a restaurant near Joni’s Brooklyn home. But Val is viciously attacked beforehand, sent to the hospital in a coma. Waiting, Joni drinks herself into an angry, vulnerable stupor and is later retrieved by her controlling husband who pays the housekeeper and dog walker to keep tabs on his unstable wife.
Continuing to drink, Joni rashly breaks free from a miserable marriage. The price is another secret, another mean memory, the loss of career, family and perhaps her self-delusion. Joni only becomes more invisible.