||June 14, 2011
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A Whisper to a Scream
Karen Wojcik Berner
Have you ever wanted something so badly it hurts?
Annie Jacobs has dreamed of the day she would become a mother since the first time she held her Baby Tenderlove doll. Unfortunately, biology has not cooperated with her plan, and she finds herself with a diagnosis of unexplained infertility.
Sarah Anderson is just trying to make it through the day, managing a first grader and a toddler, plus a work-obsessed, absentee husband.
When they meet through a Classics Book Club, each thinks the other one's life is so much better than her own. But, is the grass truly greener on the other side of the fence?
Ovulation detectors. Hormone surges. Anxiety-ridden dreams. This is the world in which Annie Jacobs is thrust when she and her husband John receive a diagnosis of unexplained infertility. She is dreading another Christmas of relatives asking when they will be hearing the pitter patter of little feet, and Uncle Joe slapping John on the back, telling him to relax and take a cruise. Lots of people get pregnant on vacation, you know.
Across town, stay-at-home mom of two, Sarah Anderson, attempts grocery shopping with a toddler intent on hurling items from the cart at passersby. She notices a box of rice heading straight for a pink-babushkaed head. Leaping across the aisle, Sarah grabs it, saving the woman from certain doom, or at least a minor head injury. Little Alex screams at being thwarted. The unknowing octogenarian shakes her head and admonishes Sarah for not knowing how to keep her child quiet in public.
A Whisper to a Scream is the story of two women on opposite ends of the child-bearing spectrum who come to realize the grass is not necessarily greener on the other side of the fence. A vivid portrayal of contemporary marriage and its problems, the novel speaks to a longing in all of us, a yearning that might start as a vague notion, but eventually grows into an unbearable, vociferous cry.
At thirty-five years old, Sarah Anderson discovered something quite shocking. She had Attention Deficit Disorder —she didn’t get any. Men saw right through her, noticing the children she toted about, one hanging on her leg and one in her arms, but quickly dispelling her, as if the kids were somehow suspended in mid-air, like receivers on Monday Night Football. She wasn’t sure if she had made this correlation herself or had seen it as a joke on the comedy channel. What did her sleep-deprived brain know anyway? How comforting to know her life could be summed up by a punch line.
As she neared the end of the grocery store aisle, she pulled her cart to a screeching halt, barely missing the man wearing a business suit and cyborg earpiece who just cut in front of her. He continued his conversation, rolling over her foot as he passed.
“I’m in an all-day meeting on Monday. How’s Tuesday look?”
“Asshole,” she whispered, hoping her son would not hear. “C’mon, Alex. Let’s get this over with.”
The toddler was playing his favorite shopping game, throwing things from the cart at passersby. Alex had a small box of rice in his hands. Sarah mistakenly thought shaking it might amuse him, but instead the little guy was ready to chuck it at the pink-babushkaed head of an octogenarian when Sarah turned around from choosing a linguine. Spotting the just-released rice, she leapt across the aisle, caught it on the fly, and tossed it in the basket. Alex cried at being thwarted. Sarah smiled, only to be admonished by the scarved lady for not knowing how to keep her child quiet in the store.
“These kids nowadays. They run the show, not the parents.” The little woman, oblivious to her near-miss, pushed her cart past Sarah’s, who stared in shock as the pink head became lost in the crowd of shoppers. Alex cried louder. Sarah gave him some fish crackers and continued on.
At last, they were finished and headed for the check out lanes. “Hey! Record time. You were a pretty good boy in the grocery store. Mommy really appreciates that.” Sarah kissed her son on the check. Alex responded by smiling and slapping her in the face.
The eternal struggle of the harried American woman is analyzed here, with surprising adeptness and compassion. Two 30-something Chicago-area women — one with a flourishing career and no children, the other a stay-at-home mother burdened by her two children and mostly-absentee husband — are united by an increasing sense of despair at their lot in life, and a reading group that allows them, if only temporarily, to lose themselves in books. The story benefits from a vivid sense of its protagonists’ inner selves — Sarah’s growing fury at being trapped with her children, day after day, and Annie’s similar anguish at her inability to get pregnant. Annie, married for over a decade, is flummoxed by doctors and fertility specialists in the quest to conceive. The trying process begins to alienate her from her husband and from her career as a public-relations executive. Womanhood, the book argues, is a lose-lose proposition. These are lives of quiet (and not-so-quiet) desperation. Although marred by a hesitant conclusion at odds with its fearless truthfulness, the book does its best to depict real situations.
(This review was based on the novel's entry in the ABNA, 2009.)
Sarah is a stay at home mother to two young children, dealing with a somewhat absentee husband. Annie is a career woman, longing for motherhood but struggling with infertility. Both seem to long for what the other has, without even realizing it. The two women cross paths at a local book club, and we get to see the journey each woman goes on over the course of several months. Neither is fully prepared for where she will end up.
Quite an intriguing little book this is. It has been on my to read list for a month, and I read it basically in one day. It was hard to stray from it once I started, because I wanted to see what each woman was going to encounter next. I loved the two main characters of Sarah and Annie. I felt a little bit like a peeping tom, because we see these women in their most raw, real moments in life. They talk like real women. Their struggles are ones we relate to as women.
Sarah's story is one I see echoed in the lives of so many mothers that I know. When reading her portions of the story, I could literally feel her frustration and resentment leaping from the page. And with Annie, well, Annie's story is sort of my biggest fear in life, so it most definitely resounded.
What I like most about this book is that, while it lacks a conventional "happy ending" revolving around perfect partners and storybook romances, each woman finds her own version of happiness and purpose. I believe that is a lesson so many women need to learn these days.
A bit of a warning, when I first saw the title of the book, I expected an action packed mystery thriller, which it is most certainly not. But that is not to say the book is slow or lacks anything. If anything, when I finished the book, I was impressed with how real the storyline was. Nothing overly dramatic. Just the lives of two women, so similar to women we all know. I think that is ultimately why I liked the book so well. It was less like reading a book, and more like talking to two old college friends.
Breakout Books Reviews
A Whisper to a Scream takes us on a roller coaster ride of emotions. This tale of two women, one already a mother and one who desperately wants to become a mother, accurately depicts the raw human emotion that comes with the prospect of becoming a parent. My heart ached for both Annie and Sarah as the course of their lives was altered by cruel fate. I admired the strength they showed despite everything they encountered. They both proved that what does not kill us truly does make us stronger. Karen's writing is smooth and entertaining, leading the reader right to the heart of the story. Her words tell us of the true strength of the human spirit.
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