Published June 26, 2011 by myliteraryleanings

“Listen” by Rene Gutteridge

Overview from Nothing ever happens in the small town of Marlo . . . until the residents begin seeing their private conversations posted online for everyone to read. Then it’s neighbor against neighbor, friend against friend, as paranoia and violence escalate. The police scramble to identify the person responsible for the posts and pull the plug on the Website before it destroys the town. But what responsibility do the people of the town have for the words they say when they think no one is listening? Life and death are in the power of the tongue.

My Review:
This book for me was bittersweet. It was a free e-book one week for the Nook like many of the other e-books that I have reviewed. That would definitely be one of the “sweets,” as always but that is not exactly what I mean when I say that reading this book was bittersweet. What I really mean is that it is sweet in that the writing is great and the story is well-crafted, unique, and very intriguing. It could be described as psychological thriller I believe.

Although there are a few exciting things that happen to move the story forward in an entertaining way, the crux of the story revolves around the rather boring activity of someone in this small town who is recording conversations of the residents and posting transcripts of them on a website. His/her actions set off a firestorm as people find out what their family, friends, and coworkers say about them when they are not around.

The book opens with a prologue where on a day when most young girls like Meredith are supposed to be happy- she is staring at the gifts she had apparently just received at a party- her thoughts turned to sadness. One minute she is listening to the wind from a coming storm, the next she hears some terrible words from some friends in the other room through a baby monitor.

“She stared at them… portals to reality a reality that told her who she was. What she was.
“Her friends still didn’t know she had heard them when she’d gone to the back bedroom to get a sweater. But she heard everything through the baby monitor. Every word.

“She didn’t know she embarrassed them by how she dressed. She didn’t know her hair was ugly.” P. 7

The words apparently became a stain to her life that drove her over the edge for the prologue leads us through her suicide attempt. “’Stains are permanent, Dad’” she says mentally to her father’s futile attempts to remove oil stains from their garage. (A fitting metaphor here I think.) We are not told at this time what happens to her as the book continues through the story for a while without further mention of Meredith until much later.

The first chapter opens on one Damien Underwood who is an op-ed columnist/crossword puzzle writer for the local paper. He decides that he wants more action as an investigative report and gets it when his boss gives the okay but he seems to have bitten off more than he can chew when this website materializes and people begin to do things that they had never seemed capable of previously.

As the chaos grows, he finds himself, his family, and his good friend, police officer Frank Merret increasingly at the center of it. Frank still has trouble getting over his divorce, though it was years ago. Damien’s daughter Jenna has trouble finding her way in school. And his wife Kay is having trouble communicating with Jenna. While Damien feels disconnected from his son as well as his daughter, he does not worry the way Kay does. In all the chaos, he doesn’t recognize Marlo as the town he grew up in anymore.

Damien discovers that the people that he thought he knew are not who they seem to be. Even Frank, is keeping secrets from him. When he catches him in lie, doubt sets in. This leads him back to the church that they left many years ago.
Also, the recorded conversations lead some characters in the book to commit horrible actions in response to the things they read on the website, including an apparent kidnapping/assault on a young girl at the local high school who is not well-liked by many of her peers. We see this when one of the culprits is interrogated by Frank.

 “’It wasn’t supposed to be a big deal. It was just a little revenge for what she said.’
‘What she said?’ Frank asked.
‘On that Web site. About cheerleaders.’ Caydance sighed heavily. ‘I tied her up, and Zoey was supposed to go untie her in like ten minutes.’” P.128

In the backdrop of all of this is Damien’s obsession with words. He fears that society is spiraling downwards in direct proportion to what he sees as its increasing lack of respect for them and adherence to grammaticism. And this where the bitter part comes in for this seems to be the underlying theme of the book, taken from the book of James in Bible, that words are powerful. They can kill, but they can also heal so we should use them wisely.

Although this book does seem to have a theme, I don’t find it to be preachy. It is something which I think most of us would acknowledge as true but don’t really think much about it. Maybe it is time that we did just that.

In spite of the lesson here, and perhaps because of it, I found this book enjoyable and thought-provoking but in a very entertaining way. The lesson is serious but the book is not heavy-handed.

Also, I liked the characters a lot and find them all to be believable. My favorites though I think would be in order: Frank, Kay and then Damien. Frank seemed like an easy-going uncle that we all love but who has a few hang-ups.
If you’re looking for a good, thought-provoking read which is not too preachy nor too watered-down this is it.


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