The Silent Gift — Review by Chris

Carole can tell a story. In fact, her entire family has the gift: a trip to the grocery store that afternoon or remembering how television channels were changed "back in the day" can make me laugh so hard my face hurts and want to talk until all hours just to hear how it turns out.

Even when regaling the story of a movie or television show, the clan can rock. However, there is a difference: when they do not own the story, there's a distance between the storyteller and the tale.

For them, it's not bad. For Michael Landon, Jr. and Cindy Kelly, it's a deal-breaker.

Landon and Kelly have that problem with The Silent Gift. They don't own the story, so they tell it from a distance. The writers try too hard to create nonchalance in their story, but they can't hide the stress of too many wrong words too carefully chosen to create clumsy clues that blurt out the storyline, rather than provide a foreshadowing or creating a path that carries the story forward.

The novel begins with a rush: a terrible, exciting scene involving fast driving, death and birth, beginning and the end. Then the reader goes from 60 to zero when we meet the characters in their everyday life.

Mary is wooden and stilted, but there's no clue as to why, so she remains simply clunky rather than reserved and complicated. Every plot complication is due to her unexplained, unexpected action. All we see, all we know is what's on the page, and that's scant at best. Jack is almost invisible — which should be impossible, considering the third-person narrative focuses on Mary and she's focused on Jack. Jerry is a caricature who doesn't really even deserve a name, let alone any space in the narrative. He sweeps in with everything and nothing. The reader doesn't know, and with Mary's leaden characterization, the reader doesn't really care.

The story evolves around the action of a deaf-mute boy who cannot communicate. Out of nowhere he has skills he was neither taught nor would he understood what they meant. His mother, who after spending one night on a Salvation Army cot, suddenly becomes an expert in scripture, making connections between her son's actions and a complex book she admits to never having read herself, and not having even listened to since she was a child. It's not a miracle, just an unlikely plot complication. I just don't believe it.

Full disclosure: I didn't finish the book. I didn't want to. I have been reading long enough to know how many pages to give a book to make its case. I gave this book 93 pages, which is only a quarter of the novel but far more than it deserved, and it never captured my attention and imagination. I didn't find myself wondering what comes next. I didn't delight in the characters, despite their hardships. I didn't try to guess how the story would unfold. I have no idea what Mary looks like, what Jack looks like. I can't picture their surroundings, the cities in which they find themselves. I can't see it, and that only happens when my imagination is not engaged. When I see only the words on the page, I put down the book.

I wanted to like this book, but I didn't.

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