Wednesday, December 15, 2010

THE WEIGHT OF SILENCE by Heather Gudenkauf

Sandwiched between a disturbing opening and a too-neat ending is a nail-biter of a story. At first I thought, oh, no, not another book about an abusive, alcoholic husband and father, but that impression quickly faded. Two 7-year-old girls, Petra and Calli (best friends) have gone missing. We know that Calli is with her drunken father, Griff, who has eschewed his fishing trip to drag his daughter barefoot through the woods at 4 a.m. His muddled purpose is to take her to the home of Deputy Sheriff Louis, who Griff thinks is Calli's real father. Petra coincidentally disappears at the same time, following someone into the woods, of her own accord. The anguish of these two families steers the plot, especially as they come under the suspicion of special agent Fitzgerald, who is brought in to help locate the girls. Certainly both families have significant flaws and secrets, and the parents have to re-evaluate where they went wrong. The only truly likeable characters are the children, and they're not faring very well. Calli hasn't spoken a word in 3 years, since her father pushed her mother down the stairs, causing a miscarriage. Petra is Calli's full-time interpreter at school, reading Calli's expressions and actions to ascertain her thoughts and intentions, and then conveying them to teachers and classmates. When the girls disappear, there's more than enough guilt and blame to spread around among the parents. Several narrators alternate in the telling of events, both past and present, and no single narrative is very long. If you find yourself exasperated with one character, have no fear, because a different narrator is just a few pages away. This approach also helps build suspense, as we frequently have to abandon Calli's account of her abduction to hear what her mother or Petra's father is going through. It's nifty and thoroughly spellbinding.

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