Monday, January 17, 2011

Silence

I'm reading a book that's gutting me and I can't put it down; I had to hide it under a pile of blankets today in order to get any work done; and I think you should read it, too. It's called Hush and it's by Eishes Chayil, which is a pseudonym that means woman of valor in Yiddish.

A teenaged woman in a Hasidic community in Brooklyn, preparing herself for marriage, remembers an act of abuse within the community that she witnessed years ago. Today, she considers telling the truth about what she saw -- but knows that the consequences of doing so will be catastrophic, because her community insists on silence and has many, many mechanisms built into its social structure to enforce that silence. This is a book about a crime against a child, a tragedy, and a spectacularly unjust cover-up, and (like all the best books) it's about a lot of other things, too. It's beautifully written and completely believable (and also wickedly funny in places). I have no idea what's going to happen, but I know that I won't fall asleep tonight until I finish it, and I know it's going to be hard. Here is the Kirkus review, which contains spoilers (hence, I haven't read it myself). Here is an interview with the author.

(Thank you, R and D, for helping me understand whether "Eishes Chayil" is Hebrew or Yiddish.) (The answer: kind of both!)

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We had quite the snowstorm on Wednesday. I had nowhere I needed to be and no car to worry about, so it was a stress-free storm for me. With a Netflix DVD to return, I decided to try to catch the last pick-up at the blue mailbox on my corner, even though I wasn't particularly confident that the post office was picking up mail. I went outside and it was SO QUIET. My street is never quiet. I threw my DVD into the mailbox and stood staring at this row of cherry trees on my block that are always doing something pretty, every season of the year. The falling snow was swift, fine, and dry; consequently, it was creating the most amazing SKINNY, SKINNY WALLS of snow on top of each tree branch. Like, an eight-inch-tall sliver of snow balanced on top of each skinny little branch. It made me so happy. As I wandered away, the mail truck trundled into view. :-)

I walked to the river before going inside again; everything was so WHITE and silent. If you're familiar with Memorial Drive in Cambridge, you'll understand how surreal it was to stand in the middle of it, look around at all the whiteness, and have everything be so silent.

It was very different from, but reminded me of, another walk I took once in a storm.

While I walked, I was trying to figure out how to insert a particular thing into the scene I was writing. I was trying to convey something important about one of my characters, a factoid that needed to be clear and definite to the reader, but reach the reader in a gentle, muted, subtle way. Standing around in the snow, I figured out what the problem was: it wasn't time yet. I could convey this thing that I wanted to convey, but not now: if I tried to do it in this scene, it would seem forced. I needed to be patient, let it go, and have faith that the right moment would present itself later in the book.

A beautiful walk solves everything.

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ETA 1:50AM: Hush is wonderful to the last line. Do read it.