Book Review: Listen To Me by Hannah Pittard

Normal people didn’t wast their days reading about other people’s misfortunes. Normal people didn’t take a gross sort of pleasure in keeping up with local crime statistics. Normal people didn’t walk the dog in a robe. Normal people don’t act like Maggie.

What happens to a marriage when resentment sneaks in and its limits are tested? Listen To Me by Hannah Pittard illuminates the strain and struggle one couple suffers. 

Maggie, a vetrinarian, was recently mugged outside her Chicago home. Just when she was reaching a stable point in her recovery, a pair of detectives bombard Maggie with questions and photographs of a young neighbor who was recently murdered with the hopes of connecting her attacker to this crime. She has since developed an enveloping paranoia- a by-product of this being her obsession with violent, distructive, life-runing news stories. Maggie’s fearfulness sprials out of control and she takes to hording and hiding weapons throughout the home to cope.

She was exactly as she’d been for the past three weeks: scared. And scared, he was realizing now, perhaps for the very first time, of everything. That was it. He was finally starting to see. It wasn’t just nighttime; it wasn’t just the man in the alley and the man in the college girl’s apartment. She hadn’t simply turned scared of the dark. She’d turned scared of life.

Mark, a professor, harbors strong opinions about Maggie’s new obession and constant web surfing. He begrudges both and, needless to say, he is unsupportive of his wife’s distress and her attempt at coping.

It embarrassed Mark that his wife had become a completely different person just because she’d been mugged. Strike that- because someone they didn’t even know had been murdered.But there was something about Maggie’s newfound paranoia, by her determination that she was suddenly more susceptible to another attack than someone else, that made Mark feel like less of a man. Yes: less of a man. That right there was the problem. It was devastating. 

In an attempt to escape the monotiny of daily life, the lingering indifference that has developed in their marriage and to provide a distraction from Maggie’s incessent internet browsing, Mark suggests they begin their annul road trip to visit his family. The two load up th car, their dog Gerome included, and set out for what proves to be a dramatic missdventure that brings to light eachother’s shortcomings.

The long and short of it, the plain and simple fact: Mark was afraid of technology and Maggie was afraid of people.

An unexpected plummetts their route into darkness and they are forced to search for a safe haven in an unfamiliar hotel- a situation which tests Maggie and Mark and pushes each of them, and their marriage, beyond its limits.

“But-” Maggie looked again out the window. She looked this time past the car, past the parking lot. She looked into the deep expanse of darkness where golden bulbs at various heights and of incalculable degrees of intensity should have been twinkling and blinking bright. What she realized was that the entirety of 35 was black. Not a single streetlamp was illuminated.

Maggie’s terror reaches an all-time high when she wakes up in an abanoned car in an unfamiliar parking lot. In an attempt at chivilry Mark chose not to disturb his sleeping wife and set out in search of a hotel- leaving Maggie alone, in the dark, with the car doors unlocked.

She did the next best thing to hitting and screaming. She closed her eyes, clenched her fists, gritted her teeth,  and visualized her own skull exploding. She imagined little pieces of cranium sticking to the upholstery of the roof, sliding down the inside of the windshield. Protoplasmic fibers splattered against the rear view mirror. Chunks of cerebellum landed on the dashboard. Her medulla dangled limply from the passenger headrest. She stayed like this until she heard a tiny buzzing at the base of her brain, and then she released herself. Except, she wasn’t released. Because now her heartbeat was racing, which necessarily engaged her anxiety, and she found herself suddenly clawing at the lock button in a sloppy and erratic sort if way the reminded her out of nowhere if climbing up a pool ladder when, as a child, she’d once managed to convince herself- though she knew it to be pure impossibility- that piranhas had materialized in the deep end.

The search for a hotel yeilds multiple dead-ends, each one racheting up Maggies panic and Marks contempt. Just when it appears all is lost they discover a potentilly vacant hotel located deep in the woods in a sleepy town- with no electricity. Forced to nagivate using a frozen GPS map, Maggie’s strength is repeatedly testing by Mark.

“I don’t know,” said Maggie. She felt like a teenager. She felt she shouldn’t be the one answering a question like that; felt he shouldn’t have been asking in the first place. Why couldn’t Mark show some confidence for once, some real wherewithal? It was draining sometimes, being always expected to be an equal in everything.She longed to be taken care of.

The story culminates in a scene which places Mark in an uncomfortable and dangerous situation which leads to an event that unearths the courage buried deep within Maggie and allows Mark to apprecite he resilience.

Evil- sometimes anonymous, sometimes known- nnot only existed, it thrived.

A truly engaging read that honestly and transparently follows a couple through the trenches of marriage after crisis, Listen To Me shows just a strong a union marriage can be.

From the Sumerians, a 5,000-year-old society, we receive the word love as a compound verb. At the time and taken literally, thus word-this love- meant the measuring of the earth or the demarcation of the land. Love, in other words, was a business, and it’s business meant marriage, and marriage meant maintenance, the preservation, the endurance of society. 

Read voraciously. 

Thoughts? 

Intrigued? Buy the book here : 

Listen to Me

by Hannah Pittard

Hardcover

Powells.com
A review copy was provided by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt via Netgalley.

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