The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkaupf
Book description~ It happens quietly one August morning. As dawn’s shimmering light drenches the humid Iowa air, two families wake to find their little girls have gone missing in the night. Seven-year-old Calli Clark is sweet, gentle, a dreamer who suffers from selective mutism brought on by a tragedy that pulled her deep into silence as a toddler. Calli’s mother, Antonia, tried to be the best mother she could within the confines of marriage to a mostly absent, often angry husband. Now, though she denies that her husband could be involved in the possible abductions, she fears her decision to stay in her marriage has cost her more than her daughter’s voice. Petra Gregory is Calli’s best friend, her soul mate and her voice. But neither Petra nor Calli has been heard from since their disappearance was discovered. Desperate to find his child, Martin Gregory is forced to confront a side of himself he did not know existed beneath his intellectual, professorial demeanor. Now these families are tied by the question of what happened to their children. And the answer is trapped in the silence of unspoken family secrets.
As if being a mother didn’t already leave you with constant worry. Now you’re daughter is missing and was taken from the comforts of her bed. In your house. In the middle of the night. Oh wait. And by the way- your daughter is a selective mute who has not spoken since tragedy struck her as a toddler. This is the premise for Gudenkauf’s page-turning novel The Weight of Silence. We are along for a suspenseful thrill ride that I would compare to The Lovely Bones and Memory Keeper’s Daughter not in terms of plot, but the tone of the novel.
Silence was narrated by Antonia (Calli’s mother), Louis (detective), Martin (Petra’s father) , Petra (Calli’s best friend) and Ben (Calli’s brother) in first person narrative where Calli’s voice (the main character) is told in the third person. This was an extremely smart and strategic move on Gudenkaupf’s part and I absolutely loved her use of this technique, where if you remember, I criticized it in my earlier review of Heart of the Matter.
Calli, 7, is a selective mute. Calli has not spoken since she was four years old. Calli’s character would not have been anywhere near as magnetic to me if I knew what she was thinking/feeling. Instead, we rely on her best friend, kindred spirit, and “voice”, Petra, who also goes missing that fateful night from her own bed, to fill in the blanks.
“I am thinking that I should have put up posters the day Calli lost her voice. Missing it would say, Calli Clark’s beautiful voice. Four years old but sounds much older, has a very advanced vocabulary, last heard on December 19th, right after her mother fell down the stairs; please call with any information regarding its whereabouts, REWARD.”
Under normal circumstances, I probably would have criticized Gudenkaupf right away too, for how she develops the rising action so slowly, only giving the reader 1-3 pages per character/chapter before it switched to someone else’s voice. I compare it to listening to the radio on SCAN mode; just getting into a song and then it switches to the next station. Gudenkaupf also spent a lot of time on the backstories/love triangle between Antonia, Louis and Griff (Calli’s father) when as the reader, I wanted nothing more than to stick with Calli, Petra and Ben’s stories. However, I feel as though Gudenkaupf’s goal was to do just that- frustrate the reader. Why would an author WANT to frustrate the reader you say? As a literary device. How do you think you’d feel if for the last three years you’ve not been able to utter a single word. How frustrated would you be? Gudenkaupf wants to frustrate the reader, igniting a passion to find out what happens next. It successfully allowed me to really connect and relate to what Petra and Calli were going through in the woods, and feel the agony the family was going through during the search, in the moment, for that particular character. If the reader were let inside Calli’s head, there’d have been no element of uncertainty which every good suspense novel needs! I just love Gudenkaupf’s literary choices in this novel and think it really made me want to keep reading and turn the page.
“I see your lips begin to arrange themselves and I know, I know. I see the word form, the syllables hardening and sliding from your mouth with no effort. Your voice, not unsure or hoarse from lack of use but clear and bold. One word, the first in three years. In an instant I have you in my arms and I am crying, tears dropping from many emotions, mostly thankfulness and relief, but tears of sorrow mixed in. I see Petra’s father crumble. Your chosen word doesn’t make sense to me. But it doesn’t matter, I don’t care. You have finally spoken.”
I enjoyed this book selected by one of my book club babes for discussion later this month. I’m really looking forward to hearing the opinions of our group and you as well, if you decide to pick it up.
If you want a suspenseful and quick read, I definitely recommend this book.
“My own silent little girl is even more of a mystery to me. The way she likes her hair combed smooth after a bath, the joy she has in inspecting her nails after I have inexpertly painted them. Having a little girl has been like following an old treasure map with the important paths torn away”.
38 down, 14 to go!
In progress, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake