The Weight of the Great
by Adam Wilson, Associate Editor, MIRA and Harlequin Teen
I was asked to this lovely space to write something to you all about Heather Gudenkauf’s breakout debut novel, THE WEIGHT OF SILENCE. But, really, what else remains for me to say about this book? The people have already spoken… and they love it!
If you judge by sales, it’s sold a kazillion copies and been on the New York Times list forever. If by critical reception, it’s garnered praise from every corner: book clubs, authors, reviewers, editors, astronauts, the literate among the unicorns.
Of course, none of those things will tell you precisely why a book’s so popular with readers. To be honest, nobody in publishing can entirely predict what will take off and what won’t. (If we could, wouldn’t every book be atop the list?) What we are left with, then, is the task of figuring out why any particularly successful book resonates as well as it does with readers.
I read THE WEIGHT OF SILENCE when it first began being passed around the office, pre-acquisition, when those who first discovered it realized we had something special. As a life-long fan of William Faulkner, I personally enjoyed TWOS (as we’ve been playfully abbreviating it in emails) for its multiple, sometimes fractured, p.o.v.s and how those things set the stage (and embody it) for a suspenseful, tale of lurking danger and family treachery. (I love the woods! Family treachery is less fun, if it’s your own.)
I like to think that people enjoy Heather’s work for the sheer quality of her writing. No doubt many do. But equally compelling are the book’s insights into the nature of family dynamics, functional and dysfunctional, its observance of the pressures of an uncertain and confusing world upon our children, and—let’s definitely not forget—its page-gripping mystery.
Child-abduction, selective mutism, trauma, the woods—these are all gripping topics for any reader, and TWOS has them, great ‘hooks’ as the marketers amongst us might say. But without the delicate hand of a writer like Heather, they might as well be bullet points in some Power Point meeting. What our splendid Heather Gudenkauf does is take a story with innumerable “whats” and through her skill and thoughtfulness delivers us with a tale filled with “hows” and “whys”—she links together what might otherwise be mere plot points into something greater: a story with the texture of humanity.
What a texture, and what a story! When you pick up a book like this you get the best of escapism and real-life experience. And that, IMHO, is what great books are all about: leaving your land for a well-wrought other, and bringing something back to share with your friends.
Have a great holiday season, and take care everyone. And read a book, durn it!