Tuesday, July 19, 2016

LISTEN TO ME :: Hannah Pittard

"At so many times of the day, we expose ourselves to chance."

It's that chance, the possibility of being touched by violence, that keeps Maggie wrapped in a cocoon of fear. Assaulted by a homeless man nine months ago, she has almost worked her way back to "normal" when she gets news of another violent attack on her street and retreats even deeper into her debilitating malaise. She cuts her hours at work and starts hiding weapons in the house, all to the consternation of her husband, Mark.

As Hannah Pittard's Listen to Me begins, Mark, Maggie and their dog Gerome are leaving Chicago early for their annual road trip to Mark's parents home on the East Coast. Mark hopes the trip will straighten Maggie out; he's tired of living with the new Maggie. But the couple is heading into stormy territory, literally and figuratively, and their communication fluctuates between anger, understanding, disbelief, frustration, acceptance and back again.

Although it often felt as though nothing was happening (other than  Mark and Maggie arguing) on the surface, the undercurrents were moving about wildly. Mark doesn't understand why he seems to be losing his wife to the darkness, why she has become so obsessed with trolling the internet for tragic stories. For her part, Maggie can't get Mark to see her new reality or to deal with the violent state of the world as she sees it.

The threesome is driving into the largest storm of the season and surely the biggest test of their marriage. As they deal with their issues on the long car ride, the reader is WAITING for something to happen. All the portents of disaster are there, waiting to hit them, to prove Maggie right, and the anticipation is fed to the reader by Pittard throughout the long drive.

The trip often felt bogged down in repetitive arguments between husband and wife; this is the story of a marriage, not a straight-up thriller. I never considered putting the book down (I'm a big fan of Pittard's work), but I was getting restless. Only when the story came to a close did I really appreciate the trip I had been on through the first three-quarters of the novel. I then realized how I'd been sucked into and become a participant in it. In some ways Pittard manipulated me masterfully, and I loved her for it. Not all readers might feel this way after being in the car that long with a couple so at odds, and I can see the tone and structure of the book being a bit polarizing.

A very interesting thing happened to me while reading this book. As a dog lover, I am always curious about people's dogs. I like to think it tells me something about them. So it drove me batshit insane that Pittard never described Gerome. I had no idea what kind of dog he was and that fact actually distracted me. It was only when I sat and thought about it that I realized I don't think Pittard ever really physically described Maggie or Mark, either. That hadn't even dawned on me while reading. Why was that different?

The only answer I can come up with is that by their actions and words I got the sense of who Maggie and Mark were. What they looked like wasn't a necessary element to their character. But because Gerome can't talk and was under the control of his owners, there was nothing to give me a sense of him. And hey, he was just a dog, so why did it matter? I don't know why it mattered, maybe just because I'm a dog geek, but it stood out like a flashing light to me. Weird?

STREET SENSE: Although violence swirls around every moment of this story, it really is more of a study of character and marriage. If you can hold on for the ultimate "reveal," this is a story worth digging into.

COVER NERD SAYS: This cover is fantastic, from the image to the font, but I'm not sure it accurately reflects the tone of the novel. It had me expecting more of a thriller, with the font almost evoking a bit of a horror or gothic element. While the book did have elements of those genres, I wouldn't classify it as such. Taken alone, I love the cover work. As a visual representation of the subject matter of the book, I don't think it's a perfect fit.

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About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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