This is a classic modern American novel in that the detail is incredible. On page 5 we learn what is in the trash can: "cardboard, Styrofoam, wood scraps, newspapers, empty paint cans and oil bottles, and other rags like this one. .... The rag is flannel, printed with purple alligators." Obsessive?
The book is about a man (city businessman) and his wife and daughter. The action starts at their upstate weekend "cottage", in the snow. The daughter is an elective mute. The parents are tearing their hair out because of this.
The father makes lists all the time and gets on with jobs. The mother's conversation is a model of pointless phrases tossed out into the air for comfort rather than communication. The daughter (who is, OF COURSE, very intelligent) chose silence as a means of controlling her environment but is coming to regard it as a prison which she cannot escape.
But it goes deeper than these somewhat stock characterisations suggest. The mother is desperate that her daughter should break through her silence and mostly devises ways to try to force her, trick her or manipulate her into speech. Yet you cannot think of her as an evil woman, rather as a desperate one. The father is far more content to let things be and find ways of really enjoying his daughter. Other family members get involved: the mother's delusional and sometimes violent brother; the paternal grandmother who keeps horses in the countryside.
The child herself is aware that her silence is confusing, damaging and terrifying her parents and she knows she has no right to inflict this on them. At other times, especially when she feels she is being manipulated, she is furious at them. Thus, a typical adolescent.
It is well plotted, perfectly observed and it all builds to a most satisfying climax.
March 2009 373 pages
- Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57