Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Sweet Hearts by Melanie Rae Thon

There's no way out of this story.
It must be told and told.
How can we know ourselves without it?
--Chapter 52

So I signed, My mother is drowning. Agnes did not correct me. She understood: some things happen in present time forever.
--Chapter 31

Melanie Rae Thon is an author I've enjoyed before--I absolutely adored Iona Moon--but her stories and characters are slippery sorts, just out of reach of feeling a bond to them.

In Sweet Hearts the deaf narrator, the renegade children's aunt, induces this sense of a just-missed connection; she is ever hovering at the edge of the story herself, and she keeps her audience firmly at her side, never letting us get too close, even when she seems to address us. Also, we can never be entirely sure if the story she tells us is as she imagines events, or whether she has a sixth-sense (omnipotency, in this case) to make up for her lack of hearing.

At first, it seems as though this is a story about two kids who go on an assault and robbery spree, and about their relationship with their mom and, to a lesser degree, their step-dad. But then the story devolves into a family history of disconnected mothers, and equally into a narrative to the children's mother who won't listen, and so you take her place by default, a surrogate listener.

You might think detachment from the story wouldn't work, but Thon has a terrific sense of words. Her craft is finely honed, her language often memorable, if not outright lyrical. And even though you feel detached, your compassion for every single character is evoked and your need to blame someone is nullified.
When you came home after dark, Mother didn't scold because she never knew you were missing. But I knew. You came to my room, Frances, white blouse torn, legs and arms scraped by brambles. Dried blood pearled along a hundred tiny cuts. And this was the beginning, a glimpse of our future. You had learned the first and most valuable lesson of our new lives together: if you ditched your bike by the road, nobody would notice; if you ran down by the river where the rosehip briars grew thick and tangled, nobody would look for you; if the thorns cut your arms and legs, if the snagged your clothes and ripped, if they scratched your face, you could yell into the night and nobody, nobody would hear you.
--Chapter 20

If you liked Poppy Adams's The Sister or if you enjoy Robin McKinley's writing style, you may want to add Melanie Rae Thon to your list of authors to look up; Thon's style has a similar story-tellingness to it. On the other hand, if you prefer page-turners with hyper-intense plots and have no patience for slower, meticulously crafted stories, skip it.


Anonymous said...

wow...your review is really good. i love that you didn't just give a plot summary.

the quotes you included are telling--i can see that the author really knows how to use language to create characterization and imagery.

i may just have to check this one out! thanks for the review. :)

Zibilee said...

The passage that you quoted was wonderful! I think I may have to check this out. I really like slow and winding books when they are written really well, and this looks like it qualifies. Thanks!

Valerie said...

I will have to check this book out....being hearing impaired myself, I'll be reading it from that perspective. Looks like a good book overall. Whether I like the pace of the book depends on the mood I'm in at that time :-).