Category: Suspense Review

#BestsellerCode100: Writer’s Review of The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf

Let’s take a look at Heather Gudenkauf’s fabulous The Weight of Silence  from a writer’s perspective. It is Number 73 on The Bestseller Code Challenge list.

This post contains spoilers.

 

The Weight of Silence

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: Two young girls, Calli and her friend Petra, disappear from their homes  early one hot August morning. The tension builds as their families struggle to find them. Will they be too late?

The Weight of Silence is Heather Gudenkauf’s debut novel. Some of her newer titles include Not a Sound and Missing Pieces.

Genre

These days many novels have the label (or mislabel) “suspense,” but The Weight of Silence is a pitch perfect example of the genre (see explanation in previous post). Before we’re too far into the story, we learn a little bit about how each girl goes missing. Because of that, now we are glued to the pages as the tension mounts. Will they be found before something worse happens?

All the textbooks in the future should have The Weight of Silence under the definition of suspense. Yes, it’s that good.

Characters

The chapters are named for and narrated by different characters, mostly in the first person. For example, the prologue is narrated by Antonia, who the mother of one of the missing girls. In the first chapter we meet Calli, a seven-year-old girl who refuses to speak. With one exception, the author tells her story in tight third person, which reflects Calli not having a voice.

Calli’s best friend and neighbor Petra Gregory is the focus of the next chapter, again told in first person. In later chapters we meet Petra’s father Martin, Deputy Sheriff Lewis (who has a history with Antonia), and Calli’s older brother Ben.

In contrast to the forceful voices of A Day Late and A Dollar Sort , the differences between the voices of Gudenkauf’s  characters are much more subtle.  A few reviewers have called the author out for not developing clearer lines between the characters. but I’m not sure I agree. Yes, writers are taught to make each character sound unique. From a reader’s perspective, however, it might be easier to read if the text has less jarring shifts. After all, at some level we know one author is telling the entire story. Do we really need vastly divergent voices to be able to suspend disbelief? What do you think?

Setting

Gudenkauf does an excellent job of giving the reader a sense of place. The Weight of Silence is set in Willow Creek, Iowa (Check this cool map of the settings of all of Gudenkauf’s novels).  The families are isolated, far away from town. The girls are lost in  the surrounding forest, which adds to the ominous atmosphere.  It is a hot August day and the reader can feel the oppressive heat. Each detail of the setting ratchets up the tension.

Public Domain photo via VisualHunt

Discussion

There’s so much to discuss about this novel it is hard to know where to start. I’m going to mention a couple that stood out for me that haven’t been mentioned in a lot of other reviews.

Right in the beginning the details of Calli’s school life caught my eye. For example, a child who didn’t speak at school would have a terrible time asking to go to the restroom, and “urinary accidents” would be a forgone conclusion. I remember my son’s first grade teacher complaining that her classroom was farthest from the restrooms and how many of her students put off asking to go until it was too late. It was not surprising to read Heather Gudenkauf spent many years as an elementary school teacher. Those incidental details helped make the story ring true.

In addition, I liked how the author chose have Petra’s father Martin narrate rather than Petra’s mother. The contrast between the two fathers worked nicely. Because Martin tended to act impulsively, he drove some of the later conflict, as well. His viewpoint of how devastated Petra’s mother was gave the reader perspective.

As a reader I found this book hard to put down. The suspense pulled me in and made me want to find out what happened on the next page, then the next, then the next. Resist the temptation to skim, however, because Gudenkauf has packed in many good things that build on each other.  Because it succeeded in pulling me out of the writer’s perspective, which is a rare thing these days, it is worth taking a deeper look at this author’s bag of writing tricks.

Have you read The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Join us on social media:

Do you have suggestions for ways to improve this reading challenge? We’d love to hear them.

Have you written about  The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf? Feel free to add a link to your review to the comments.
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What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 72. The Marriage Bargain by Jennifer Probst (2012) – Discussion begins November 27, 2017
Romance

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of Daddy’s Gone A Hunting by Mary Higgins Clark

Daddy’s Gone A Hunting by Mary Higgins Clark is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.

This post does not contain spoilers.

Daddy’s Gone A Hunting by Mary Higgins Clark

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

The Queen of Suspense

As the author of thirty-seven bestselling novels, Mary Higgins Clark is known as the Queen of Suspense.  According to Clark’s website, her novels have sold over 100 million copies in the U.S. alone.  That’s a lot of books!  As the Queen of Suspense, one would be safe in assuming that Clark has the suspense novel format down pat.  Since this is not a genre I read very often, and I have seen Clark’s books continually on the bestseller tables at bookstores, I expected great things from Daddy’s Gone A Hunting.  And, while I enjoyed it, I didn’t find it to be great.  Yes, there is suspense, but as a relative novice to the suspense novel, even I figured out the major plot twist long before it was revealed.

Too Many Characters

A major issue I have with Daddy’s Gone A Hunting is the massive number of characters throughout the book.  It is difficult to keep track of all the different fire marshals, police officers, and other characters, and several times I had to read back a couple of pages to figure out exactly who was in a particular scene .  Off the top of my head I count 22 characters in a book that is only 352 pages long.  That’s a lot of characters to keep track of.

In addition to too many characters, I felt that Kate, the sister in the coma, is the forgotten character.  It is her memory that reveals the pivotal piece of the story, so why is her character not developed to the same extent as, say, the homeless Vietnam veteran?  I realize it might be difficult to develop a character that spends most of the book in a coma, but more of Kate’s story might have added to the suspense of the novel.

Fast Pace

Even though I’ve not read any of Clark’s other books, I suspect that Daddy’s Gone A Hunting is likely not one of her best.  You don’t get to be a bestselling novelist by writing lackluster stories, but after a few dozen bestsellers, I can understand how an author might write a book that isn’t quite up to her usual.  I do have to wonder, though, why this particular novel of Clark’s is the only one to have made The Bestseller Code‘s list of 100 novels that we should read.  Is it due to the pace, the scene-by-scene rhythm discussed in The Bestseller Code?  Daddy’s Gone A Hunting is fast-paced, creating a feeling of a regular rhythm or beat to the story, and that rhythm kept me avidly reading to the very end.  The chapters are short and alternate between the different characters, keeping us moving forward with the multi-faceted plot.  Daddy’s Gone A Hunting would be a good book to read while on vacation or during a long cross-country flight.

Have you read any of Mary Higgins Clark’s many novels?  Which would you recommend I read that might be a better representation of this author’s bestselling writing? And why do you think none of Clark’s other novels were listed in The Bestseller Code as a must read?

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

Do you have suggestions for ways to improve this reading challenge? We’d love to hear them.

Have you written about Daddy’s Gone a Hunting by Mary Higgins Clark ? Feel free to add a link to your review in the comments.
__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time after the discussion starts.

The next book is number 78. Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris (2010) – Discussion begins September 4, 2014
Animal-themed humorous short stories

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of The Silent Wife by A. S. A. Harrison

The Silent Wife by A. S. A. Harrison is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  This novel is categorized as a Psychological Thriller.

This post does contain spoilers.

 

The Silent Wife: A Novel* by A. S. A. Harrison


*Amazon Affiliate link)

 

In The Silent Wife, we are introduced to Todd and Jodi, a couple who appear to have it all. Todd is a building contractor in Chicago and Jodi is a psychotherapist that sees a few carefully selected clients (no difficult cases or life-threatening issues) from her home. They’ve been a couple for over twenty years and live in a beautiful twenty-seventh floor condo overlooking the lake. Jodi takes great care and pride in keeping herself in good physical shape, careful grooming, and providing the perfect home atmosphere for Todd – fresh flowers, hors d’oeuvre and wine as soon as he gets home. And yet, all is not perfect. Todd often doesn’t come home and Jodi knows the reasons why, but carefully ignores the affairs. Todd’s business dealings are always on a knife’s edge, threatening to implode, but he never tells Jodi about any financial problems. Silence is the name of the game.

It’s The Title, Again

In my review of The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, I wrote about the importance that The Bestseller Code algorithm attributes to the title of a book. In Chapter 5 of The Bestseller Code the authors explain that book titles beginning with “The” are much more common on the bestseller list than those that begin with “A.”

The specificity of the word “The” asks us to trust that this goldfinch has more relevance – enough to hold an entire story symbolically, emotionally, or structurally – for more than three hundred pages.

“The” remains the most successful way to begin a title because it is a word that implies agency focused somewhere, be that focus on a place, on an event, on an object, or somewhere else. The title gives us a clue about how to relate to the story that follows.

In addition to the title beginning with “The,” this title also includes a sociocultural role:

When it comes to sociocultural roles, the word “wife” is popular in bestselling titles, but it is always qualified. The title is not just The Wife. She has more to contend with than this. Titles about a woman in marriage that hit the lists are titles such as The Silent Wife, The Paris Wife, A Reliable Wife. The names of these novels are meant to make us wonder what happens to this woman when put in relationship to Paris, to silence, to reliability as well as, given what “wife” implies, to her husband. How do her options and her likely conflicts change?

…any quick look at the bestseller list will tell you that troubled marriage appears to be a big hook for the reading market at the moment. The books making the lists are evidence of our contemporary fascination with the roles of women in their place in the family, in marriage, and in the public sphere.

The Bestseller Code by Jodie Archer & Matthew L. Jockers. Chapter 5. Pages 150 – 154

Silent AND Wife

So here we have The Silent Wife and both words – silent, wife – have major implications in the novel. Jodi is silent, prides herself on her silence, whether it be about events and issues from her childhood or dealing with Todd’s recurring infidelities. Silence means she can ignore the issue. If it’s not talked about, it doesn’t exist. Both Jodi and Todd view silence as power and it’s been a sustaining feature of their relationship.

He breaks the connection and it dawns on him that this is typical of his and Jodi’s life together: the stubborn pretense, the chasms of silence, the blind forging ahead. He must have known this, but the weirdness of it, the aberrance, has somehow never struck him. Other couples are loud, vocal, off and on again, working things out, but with Jodi and him it’s all dissimulation. Put up a front, go through the motions, don’t say a word. Act as if all is well and all will be well. Jodi’s great gift is her silence, and he has always loved this about her, that she knows how to mind her own business, keep her own counsel, but silence is also her weapon. The woman who refuses to object, who doesn’t yell and scream – there’s strength in that, and power.

Jodi considers herself to be Todd’s wife and passes herself off publicly as Mrs. Gilbert, but she never actually married Todd, even though he proposed to her several times. The lack of a marriage certificate is a major contributor to the complete breakdown of their relationship and, ultimately, murder, and we learn in the second paragraph of the book who will be murdered and who will be the murderer.

Psychological thriller

I don’t consider this novel to be a “thriller” as much as it is suspenseful. As stated above, we are told right off who will be killed and who will do the killing. The questions to be answered are why and how. The suspense comes in watching the disintegration of the “marriage” – Jodi’s carefully structured world and Todd’s lifetime of self-delusion shatter in pieces – and in seeing just how far a person can be backed into a corner before self-preservation takes over. While neither Jodi or Todd are particularly lovable, they are believable and it doesn’t take too much of a leap to understand how any one of us might act similarly, given similar circumstances.

Author A. S. A. Harrison was a psychotherapist, in addition to writer, so Jodi is a believable psychotherapist, at least to one who has never gone through any type of therapy. Sometimes the technical descriptions of psychoanalytical theories is a little heavy, but overall, they play well into the story line and provide insight into both Todd and Jodi’s characters. Both Todd and Jodi had deeply flawed childhoods that impacted who they became as adults and how they view marriage and life, although Jodi is able to gloss over and “forget” the worst of her experiences. Jodi naming her dog “Freud” is a not-so-subtle reminder, though, that no experiences are ever truly forgotten.  They dwell in our unconscious mind and govern our behavior throughout our lives. Harrison’s message in The Silent Wife seems to be that, instead of using silence as an avoidance technique, Jodi and Todd (and maybe each and every one of us?) would have benefited by bringing issues and experiences to the light of day, examining them, and coming to some sort of resolution. Considering the end resolution for Todd in this novel, who can argue with that message?

 

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time after its start date.

The next book is number 81. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein (2008) – Discussion begins August 7, 2017
Literary fiction told from a dog’s point of view

#Suspense Author J.A. Jance: How A Brush With A Killer Launched Her Career

New York Times Bestselling suspense author J.A. Jance was in town this week signing her most recent book, Downfall: A Brady Novel of Suspense.

Judy Jance is an incredible storyteller. During her presentation she told some remarkable and emotionally-charged stories about events from her own life. She admits one particularly intense event was pivotal because it launched her career as a mystery/suspense writer.

One day in 1970, Jance’s husband was hitchhiking and accepted a ride from a man in a green car. She and her husband lived well outside of town in an isolated area, so her husband wasn’t suspicious when the man asked if his wife was often home alone. Her husband explained that they had dogs.

Within the next few days, Jance learned that there had been a brutal rape and murder nearby. The victim’s friend had spotted a green car at the scene. Putting two-and-two together, she and her husband contacted the police. They learned the man was a serial killer who had killed two other people on the twenty-second day of each month at 2:20 p.m. After realizing the man was dangerous and knew she was often home alone, Judy Jance began carrying a gun. It might have been a wise precaution because when the man was arrested on the 2oth day of the following month, Jance learned that he had intended to make her his next victim on the 22nd!

As one might expect, Judy Jance admitted that the experience changed her. It led her to write her first book, which was a fictionalized account of what happened. Although she found an agent and revised the book, she never sold it. She reported, however, that her second novel sold relatively quickly. It was solidly fiction.

Many things can be taken from this story. First of all, if the detective had taken a few more days to track down the killer, the world might not have J.A. Jance books. On the other hand, if the killer had never existed, she might not have been inspired to write, and if she had chosen to write, she likely would have written something besides police procedurals. Going deeper, you might conclude stories based on true events don’t always make good fiction, no matter how good the writer is.

Beginning writers may find comfort in the fact even bestselling authors may have a “trunk novel” that didn’t sell. Probably Jance’s best advice was that she didn’t fire her agent when her first book didn’t sell, but “fired the book” instead. She still has the same agent, one who has fully supported her career as a bestselling author. What a story!

What do you think?

(By the way, I’m not revealing anything that isn’t already in print. You can read a more about J.A. Jance in an article in the East Valley Tribune from 2004.)

Related posts:

WhoDunIt Challenge with J.A. Jance

Jance interview with Mark David Garrison

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