Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Book Review: Modern Fiction

The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf
Over the last five to ten years a solid new genre has steadily planted itself firmly between those disparate literary segments that often held opposing camps; general or popular fiction and literary fiction. Often called modern fiction, it’s a genre that bridges the divide, appealing in different ways to both sides of the partition, offering serious well-written fiction that is delivered to the reader in an engrossing, engaging way without the over-literary aspect that has deterred many readers of populist fiction. It functions by entertaining and enlightening without ever allowing itself to be termed – what has now sadly, wrongly, and quite derogatorily, been applied to much popular fiction - chicklit. The Weight of Silence falls firmly into this new integrating genre. It has been, quite correctly, compared to the work of Jodie Picoult; strong storyline, an element of mystery and drama featuring modern ethical dilemmas and issues, and has much to offer readers who enjoy her books.
Set in the out-of-town and neighbourly rural area of Willow Creek in Iowa, the story begins by introducing Callie Clark, seven years old and mute since she witnessed a particularly bad run-in with her violent, wife-beating father, Griff three years ago.
Alcohol-crazed and on a serious bender her father decides to haul his little girl off in the nearby forest for a father-daughter bonding session but, rather obviously so, it all goes wrong. They get lost, Callie becomes terrified and everything turns a very dark shade of bad.
At the exact same time, Callie’s best friend, Petra, the only one who can understand her, despite her lack of speech, goes missing from her home, with no real clues left behind for her parents or the local Sherriff to follow. His hunt for this girl is made all the more intense due to the feelings he still has for her mother, someone he had a relationship of sorts with when they were younger. As, simultaneously, the two girls are sought after by the people who love them and those who simply need to find them, the tangled web of emotions that is woven around the adults surrounding them thickens, the tension builds and the picture of what may have happened to them becomes almost impossible to discern amidst the fog of emotion, prejudice and past learning.
The dark setting of the story, in the heartlands where threats comes from all sides -and not only from the adults surrounding these small children but from the very nature they have grown up close to - makes it all the more stressful to untangle the truth. The author’s skill at building and sustaining the suspense for the reader, right to the very end is masterful and yet combined with the gentle lyricality of her writing is a rather refreshing voice. The juxtaposition of the harshness of the story with the subtly  and innate softness of her writing lends a very curious feel to it, the reader feels alternately terrified, safe, abroad and at home with what is taking place and this tends to heighten the sense of danger throughout. The Weight of Silence is a very very good first novel, one that readers of any book club books, modern fiction, literary and general fiction type novels will be sure to enjoy immensely. It is a clever bridge between two literary genres, full of drama but beautifully rendered, and I await with anticipation the author’s next book. 

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