Listen to Me is an intimate peek into a day in the life of a married couple. Mark and Maggie are going through a rough patch. Nine months earlier Maggie was mugged at gunpoint and since then she has been fearful of everything. Her fear is compounded by her newfound obsession with horrible and heinous news stories. Mark is frustrated by Maggie’s willingness to dwell in this fearful condition and sees it as a character flaw. Their relationship has been strained by this event and its aftermath. It is in this state that the couple sets out on a road trip with their dog, Gerome, to visit Mark’s parents.
Maggie’s fearfulness struck an all too familiar chord in me. Over the past few years I have learned to insulate myself from the news. Both the headlines sensationalizing the worst stories of individuals harming one another and the harm that corporations, militias, armies and leaders of nations perpetrate on a much grander scale. These realities are too heavy for me to carry and so, right or no, I try to avoid them. I don’t pretend that there is no evil in the world. I simply choose not to pay attention to it on a daily basis, acknowledging that its ability to impact me is far greater than my ability to impact it.
I was not as able to relate as much to Mark. I don’t understand what his character means when he worries that his wife is “weak.” She is afraid, angry and sad. But what does it mean to be weak in the face of these feelings? Surely, living under the weight of these feelings is an act of strength.
At the end of the book a thing happens that is tragic and serves to shake both characters up. It startles them out of the states they have been living in, side by side, but not together. As the novel closes Mark and Maggie feel more hopeful. They both seem to believe that just as the trauma of Maggie’s mugging kickstarted the emotional rollercoaster they have been on, so too the dramatic event they experienced on the road will end it. I don’t believe that though and (although I have no evidence for this) I don’t think Pittard does either. Anxiety, insecurity, and other reactions to trauma are not switches that can be turned off as easily as they are turned on. Mark and Maggie see the world in black and white. Good and evil, weak and strong, healthy and sick. Most of us know this is not the case and it is with this sad but certain knowledge that we watch them drive into the sunrise of the new day.
Mark and Maggie’s story is told over a tense 24 hours and I read it in about the same amount of time. Pittard’s novel is readable and feels fast-paced despite the fact that nothing much happens for most of their drive. What we know of the characters is complex, but I still wanted something more from them. I feel that way about most real people too, though, so maybe this is a me problem. Pittard leaves just enough unsaid between them that it is believable that there are things they are leaving unsaid to themselves and therefore to us as well.
I am keeping on ongoing list of all of the books I have read in 2016 here. Always looking for suggestions!