Listen to Me
Hannah Pittard
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Buy *Listen to Me* by Hannah Pittardonline

Listen to Me
Hannah Pittard
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
208 pages
July 2016
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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A married couple in their early 40s is about to enter The Twilight Zone of contemporary marriage, he a teacher, she a veterinarian, hard-working, reliable, to his preference for living contemporaneously: “Mark was afraid of technology, and Maggie was afraid of people.” Maggie’s innate discomfort with people has morphed into real fear after a mugging on the street near their Chicago apartment. Trying desperately to leave the lurking terror the attack evoked behind, Maggie is pulled back into the vortex of spiraling fears when detectives show her images of a coed, also assaulted but left for dead.

Mark’s patience has already been sorely tried by his wife’s obsession with a precariousness of life, returning home each day to find her scouring the Internet for gruesome tales of other such events. When he comes home one day to see Maggie walking their dog, Gerome, in a plaid flannel bathrobe, Mark decides it is time for a change of scenery. The couple make arrangements to leave early for their yearly drive to his parents’ farm in Virginia. Packing up their car (after a predictable argument about the details) and settling in the dog, a late start and traffic prompt the petty bickering that has become their pattern. Husband and wife keep their own counsel, nursing private thoughts along the sluggish city traffic, the familiar rhythms of the relationship firmly in place. Except that Maggie’s mugging has changed the emotional terrain, throwing both off balance. Mark strives for a patience that often eludes him, Maggie imagines the terrible things that could befall them, and Gerome, anxious, senses the friction between them.

While the story examines the nature of this particular marriage, the drama evolves over a one-day period, far from home or destination. Their conversations expose the banality of a martial union that has left both vaguely unsatisfied, but at a loss to repair the relationship. In a sort of limbo, Mark and Maggie exist within the confines of their vehicle, with only their dog to temper the rancor that arises. Unfortunately, more trouble is on the horizon as a series of devastating storms from Ohio to Virginia turn a lengthy yet familiar drive into a nightmare of uncertainty, exacerbated by power outages everywhere. Anxious, exhausted, and without the usual resources afforded by technology, the couple navigates unlit roads in sweltering heat, the rain pounding the windshield, under attack by nature as the storms continue unabated, and the fissures in their marriage grow deeper.

Pittard creates scathing, intimate, ironic, and weirdly compassionate protagonists, Mark and Maggie familiar in their strengths and weaknesses, their assumptions and carelessness of each other, drawn together by their mutual affection for Gerome, who becomes the agent of an epiphany. While haunting and often otherworldly, Maggie’s fears grow tiresome, Mark’s reactions wearily predictable until the reality of their predicament becomes more ominous when they stop at a shabby motel far from civilization, Glo-sticks the only source of illumination until the morning. Discomfort and exhaustion draw them together for a few hours of sleep, Hansel and Gretel barely escaping a haunted forest as daylight brings a new reality into focus.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Luan Gaines, 2016

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