Monday, August 24, 2009

Talking Up the Weight of Silence

Heather Gudenkauf's book, The Weight of Silence, is a difficult book to read.

First, the main storyline is every parent's nightmare. One sunny August morning, a small town awakens to find that two girls, best friends Calli and Petra, have gone missing in the night.

But the girls' disappearance, though chilling enough, is only the surface of an entire web of silence, deceit and old secrets that weave throughout the book, giving rise to more questions even as we solve the mystery of the two missing girls.

As you read The Weight of Silence and learn more about the girls--outgoing Petra, the joy of her over-protective parents, and best friend Calli, who hasn't spoken in over two years and still has "accidents" at the age of seven--you may find yourself, as I did, wanting to rail at the adults in the book, for even the most well-intentioned of them contribute to "the weight of silence" that overshadows Calli's world.

Antonia, Calli's mother, in particular, frustrated me to no end. As a mother, I found her behavior irresponsible and damaging, perhaps even more willfully so than that of Calli's father, Grif, who "likes his alcohol."

On the surface, Antonia seems like a devoted mother. Although she allows her children to roam the woods behind their home, Antonia has taught them all about nature and wildlife. She climbs trees along with them, takes them on picnics and shows them which berries are safe to eat.

But there is more to Antonia than meets the eye. In fact, Antonia's marriage, her past with the town's sheriff, the mystery behind Calli's refusal to talk--all of these secrets are linked to the disappearance of her own daughter that day in August.

And although, as a child, Antonia herself grew up in this same town, by these same woods, that once fearless daredevil of a girl is gone. The reckless tomboy who gave as good as she got has been replaced by a tired, secretive woman protecting the image of a happy family that hasn't existed in a long time. She has become resigned to a dysfunctional existence.

This, to me, is what is so exasperating--Antonia's complicit acceptance of her lot in life, not just for herself but for her children. We get the sense that Antonia feels that she has made her bed and so she must lie in it, that she knows she has made bad choices and yet is unwilling to take action to rectify that. As a Mom, I found her stubborn inability to walk away from her mistakes and make a better life for her children completely inexplicable.

The Weight of Silence delves into all the lives of a select group of very flawed people, trying to make the best of their lives, and it's that glimpse into the human psyche that makes the book at once so compelling and, for me as a mother, so difficult to read.

See a trailer for The Weight of Silence here.

Viv's take: A mesmerizing, perplexing and ultimately deeply thought-provoking detective's tale, Heather Gudenkauf's The Weight of Silence will keep you up at night turning the pages to discover the truth. This taut, well-written work is no light summer reading.

I wrote this book review as part of a Mothertalk blog tour for The Weight of Silence.

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