Let me say right up front, that I know this is a novel about suicide and friendship. And yes, it is about adultery, lamps and teenage angst. But what makes this books special and noteworthy is the intimate portrayal of a family under stress.
What happens when the perfect daughter in the perfect family wakes up one day and tries to kill herself? How do parents walk through the guilt? How does the other, now neglected, sibling retain his equilibrium and keep on? What do Grandparents and friends do as they standby helplessly watching the pain in the people they love? What do employers and acquaintances say to offer support? How does your child ever make it back into the real world of school and friendships?
The title, Songs Without Words, refers to the feelings we have but can't understand or find words for--possibly because no words exist. In this novel, however, Packer finds the words to talk about a topic that most of us find almost impossible to talk about: suicide and it’s impact on a family and their friends. And at it’s core is a detailed and excruciating study of the awful loneliness of a family in crisis, questioning all their assumptions about every close relationship they have.
By all rights this should be a depressing and awful book to read. It is not! Curiously, it is a story of hope and redemption and the resiliency of the human spirit. It is a celebration of love, optimism and the ties that bind and heal us.
Here is the official stuff:
Ann Packer’s debut novel, TheDive from Clausen’s Pier, was a nationwide best seller that established her as one of our most gifted chroniclers of the interior lives of women. Now,in her long-awaited second novel, she takes us on a journey into a lifelong friendship pushed to the breaking point. Expertly, with the keen introspection and psychological nuance that are her hallmarks, she explores what happens when there are inequities between friends and when the hard-won balances of a long relationship are disturbed, perhaps irreparably, by a harrowing crisis.
Liz and Sarabeth were childhood neighbors in the suburbs of northern California, brought as close as sisters by the suicide of Sarabeth’s mother when the girls were just sixteen. In the decades that followed—through Liz’s marriage and the birth of her children, through Sarabeth’s attempts to make a happy life for herself despite the shadow cast by her mother’s act—their relationship remained a source of continuity and strength. But when Liz’s adolescent daughter enters dangerous waters that threaten to engulf the family, the fault lines in the women’s friendship are revealed, and both Liz and Sarabeth are forced to reexamine their most deeply held beliefs about their connection. Songs Without Words is about the sometimes confining roles we take on in our closest relationships, about the familial myths that shape us both as children and as parents, and about the limits—and the power—of the friendships we create when we are young.
Once again, Ann Packer has written a novel of singular force and complexity: thoughtful, moving, and absolutely gripping, it more than confirms her prodigious literary gifts.