I don’t remember where I saw a recommendation for Words Unspoken by Elizabeth Musser. I keep an ever-growing list of books I want to look into, and I usually note what led me to interest in the book, but I failed to this time.
But I am glad I saw it recommended somewhere.
In Tennessee in the mid-eighties, the mother of teen-ager Lisa Randall dies right in front of her in a traffic accident, and Lissa blames herself. Eighteen months later, every time she tries to drive very far, she experiences severe panic attacks. Life is at a standstill. A brilliant, competitive student, she can’t face the possibility of college now. Her father does not seem open to discuss anything and does not seem to acknowledge any underlying problems.
A casual mention of Ev MacAllister’s driving school leads Lissa to a kindly older man nearing retirement who seems to know so much more than driving, who seems to understand what is going on beneath the surface.
But then chapter 2 brings a whole slew of new characters who don’t seem at all related to each other or the main story:
A young, cocky, ambitious Italian editor.
A depressed missionary wife in France who has lost a child.
An overconfident stockbroker.
A Southern socialite trying to keep up appearances while her marriage is crumbling.
A wildly successful but reclusive author.
At first the introduction of all these other people and plot lines was a little jarring, partly because it was so unexpected. This is not an uncommon plot device, but there was nothing on the back of the book or in descriptions I read about it to indicate there was any story other than the main one. Yet as a reader I trusted that it would all come together somehow…and oh, how it did. One by one connections are revealed, paths intersect, mysteries unfold and then resolved. Everything is masterfully woven together.
I don’t want to take away from any of that discovery, so I’ll not reveal more than that of the plot.
In one sense, it is hard to sum up what the book is about. Depression in some. Ambition in others. Character, good and bad. But ultimately…hope.
(This review will be posted to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)