After being selected to review THE WEIGHT OF SILENCE for Bookreporter.com, I was asked if I could submit my review in a week’s time. I said I’d try, but I wasn’t going to promise. I have a houseful of other commitments, some books just take longer to get through, and the writing of the review doesn’t always come as easily as you’d like.
Well, the laugh was on me. Those houseful of commitments are right where I left them, because nothing was going to happen until I finished this novel.
Every so often you get really lucky, and a book comes along that just knocks your socks off: an absorbing, engrossing, suspenseful read that you just want to keep paging through, a novel that feels a lot like running downhill --- fast and a little breathless --- until it all winds down and wraps up. THE WEIGHT OF SILENCE is exactly this kind of book. Believe me, the laundry never had a chance.
Gudenkauf tells the story of a hot and humid August morning in a small Iowa college town. Two families wake up to find that their little girls have disappeared: Calli Clark, a sweet seven-year-old who hasn’t said a word in over three years, and her best friend, Petra Gregory, who has stood by Calli and been her “voice” to the world. Calli’s parents have a strained and difficult relationship, exacerbated by her father’s drinking and abusive behavior. Petra’s family seems idyllic by comparison, but as the clock slowly ticks and the children don’t return, both families begin to become unraveled and no one is above suspicion.
THE WEIGHT OF SILENCE is Heather Gudenkauf’s debut novel, and it’s a major achievement. The point of view shifts between characters, and she manages each perspective with masterful skill. The girls are fully developed without being precious, and even the secondary characters are wonderfully crafted. The author manages to avoid clichés and isn’t afraid to show the emotional depth of her characters, including the less-than-sympathetic facets of their personalities. She has a talent for understated elegance; a scene between the town’s deputy sheriff and Mrs. McIntire, the woman in town whose 10-year-old daughter was abducted and killed by an unknown assailant the previous year, resonate beautifully. These portraits are second only to her sense of pacing, which is spot-on and so critical to this kind of novel: as it begins to move toward its close, the rhythm picks up to a dramatic finish. Let this serve as notice: Jodi Picoult has some serious competition in Heather Gudenkauf.
If you’re looking for an absorbing novel with which to wrap up the summer season, look no further than THE WEIGHT OF SILENCE. But be warned: those household chores will have to wait. Once you crack this book open, nothing much will get done until you finish. Heather Gudenkauf is an author to watch.
Reviewed by Lourdes Orive on January 24, 2011
The Weight of Silence