Book Review: The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf

The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf was my book club’s selection for our February discussion.  It was also a book we had on tour recently through TLC so I’d read a few reviews before I ever opened the book- although I don’t think that swayed my opinion of it.

Calli and Petra are 7 year old friends and playmates.  Calli is a selective mute.  You’d think that would make friendships difficult at best, yet Petra understands her, knows what she likes and dislikes, and is able to talk for her and smooth things over for her socially.  Friendship is easy at 7, and their friendship was very sweet.

Calli and Petra go missing from their respective homes in the wee hours of the morning on the same day.  Both girls’ homes back up to a wooded area where the girls have spent many happy hours playing, so the families think perhaps they are together and for some reason playing in the woods (at 4:30 am?).  Calli’s mom, especially, is not very concerned, having grown up in and around those woods.  But Calli’s dad, an abusive alcoholic asshole, was supposed to be leaving on a fishing trip with a friend at 3:00 am that very morning, and no one really thinks too much about that (I’m not giving anything away here because the reader knows from the beginning that dear old dad didn’t go fishing).  The police chief has a romantic history with Calli’s mother and a rivalry with Calli’s father, so there’s a massive conflict of interest, yet he’s on the case.  Small towns do things differently than the big cities, I ‘spose.

This book is told in very short chapters with very short sentences in the voices of different characters including Calli, Petra, Calli’s mom, Calli’s brother Ben, Petra’s dad, the police chief Louis.  Oddly, all the voices sounded the same to me, whether it was a 7 year old girl, a middle aged cop, or a 57 year old professor.  Same vocabulary, same tone- there just was no discernable difference.  I guess this bugged me more than it might have had it not been for the fact that the book I just finished prior to The Weight of Silence (American Rust) did that one particular thing VERY well- making the characters really distinct and individual.  I’m sure it’s not an easy thing for an author to do but it really goes a long way in engaging the reader.

This book was a page turner and I read it in two sittings (it would have been one, but I had to force myself to put it down and go to bed).  I wanted to know what would happen and so I kept going. And throughout I kept thinking, what is the deal with the dad?  What the heck is going on? However, the ending was unsatisfying and the writing unsophisticated.   The plot was full of so many coincidences that believability went right out the window.  Maybe I’m just a much more discerning reader than I used to be, but this one felt very amateurish.

I wonder what the other members of my book club will think..


17 Responses

  1. American Rust did do an excellent job establishing different voices for each of it’s narrators. I’ve read many books that try and fail to do the same. Overall, I think it’s usually better when the author commits to a single voice, maybe two.

  2. I just finished this book and was disappointed. The book was too choppy for me going from one character to another. I felt like I never got a clear picture os any of them. A lot of things weren’t really explained or completed satisfactorily. And there were many characters I didn’t like. I also read the book quickly because I wanted to know what happened but then suddenly the book was over.

  3. After reading your review, I’m kinda glad I opted out of the blog tour for this one! Too bad it wasn’t a more satisfying read.

  4. I’ve been looking forward to reading this, but now I’m not so sure. I get frustrated with books that aren’t well written these days.

  5. After you’ve read a book that has such distinctive characters, it is hard to be satisfied otherwise. Nice review though!

  6. It sounds as if discerning readers will not enjoy this book, Lisa. Thanks for your honest review.

  7. I had this on hold at the library but canceled after reading this review. I can’t stand amateurish writing. I’m glad I didn’t waste my time. Thanks for the review

  8. Thats a great review though – the story sounds like it has a lot of potential, but I totally get what you mean about characters all sounding the same, thats a pet hate of mine.

  9. I feel a little bit vindicated after reading your review :-). I reviewed this for the TLC tour, and my impressions were kind of similar to yours, but I was definitely in the minority. But I do think your book club could have a lot to discuss with this one!

  10. If an author wants to go with multiple narrators, they’d better be able to work out how to make the voices sound different. I think that would be a big problem for me, too. Think I’ll pass on this one.

  11. I too would like to know what the rest of your club thinks of this book. I’ve found that my reading tastes and opinions have changed a lot since I started blogging, and that sometimes leads to differences of opinions with my book club members (not in a bad way though!). Please let us know how the meeting goes – I’m definitely curious!

  12. I just picked this up after the holidays at a bookstore closeout sale. I thought it sounds good, but now, I’m worried.

  13. Sounds like the author had a good premise but they weren’t able to deliver on it. I had this one on my TBR list after reading some other reviews but now I am not so sure.

  14. This is another one that I’ve been on the fence about reading. The reviews I’ve seen are so mixed. I’m leaning towards passing on it actually! Great review.

  15. I’m always so perturbed when a book disappoints me…but I persevere, and pretty much always finish, anyway! Thanks for the review…

  16. I don’t really enjoy books that don’t have distinction between the character’s voices, and the fact that the writing is so simple may be a bit of a drawback to me. The plot does sound a bit interesting, particularly the selective mutism. I would be interested in hearing what your book club thinks of it, but I am pretty sure I won’t be reading it.

  17. I understand – the more we read, the more the “amateurish” novels stand out. I’m disappointed to hear that about this one, though. It’s on my TBR Shelf and I’ve been looking forward to it. That’s okay, though. I have so many more to read that it sitting there a little (or a lot) longer isn’t going to hurt anything. 🙂

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