Trigger warning for child abuse.
Blackhunt is the last place Joy ever wanted to go. She did her best to escape the family farm at the age of sixteen after years of violent punishments from her church elder father. But at the beginning of The Silent Listener, by Lyn Yeowart, Joy receives a phone call that summons her back. Her father’s doctor has just informed her that the old man is on his death bed and can she come back to take care of him in his last days? Joy reluctantly agrees because, at long last, this might be her chance to finally let Blackhunt know what a monster George Henderson really is.
The Silent Listener is told in three interwoven parts. In 1983, Joy wrestles with her still intimidating, albeit bedridden father and her own desire for revenge. In 1960, we follow a very young Joy during the year when her friend Wendy disappears forever. Lastly, in 1942, we watch as Joy’s mother is emotionally and physically beaten down by George after a mere two months of courtship. Taken together, we see how George created a family of people who are absolutely terrified of him while at the same time becoming one of the most admired men in the district. You see, George never loses his temper or raises his hand to them in public. He’s lively and jolly in a crowd. Because the Henderson farm is so isolated, it’s not hard for George to keep his secrets.
As if all of this wasn’t complicated enough, 1983 Joy is dogged by two ghosts from the past. One ghost is one of the detectives who tried to find Wendy all those years ago. The other ghost is actually a ghost: the ghost of Joy’s sister, Ruth. Both of them hector Joy. The detective is absolutely convinced that Joy did something to speed her father to his death and wants a confession. When Joy starts to drop hints that George might have had something to do with Wendy, he starts to push even harder. As for Ruth, Ruth has always been the part of Joy that will say the things Joy can’t bring herself to say out loud. Ruth is the part of Joy that wants to withhold pain medication or come up with elaborate plans for vengeance.
This is a hard book to read. The child abuse is gutting to read about. No one should live so terrified of someone in their family that they can barely breathe or move when that person is in the same room. Readers will want to shout at the characters to run, to call the police, to do something in spite of all the research about living with abuse that tells us that all of those actions are a lot harder for someone conditioned to the kind of life we witness at the Henderson farm. The Silent Listener is a tough psychological drama, but a good one. I was hooked in spite of all the violence and misery. Readers, consider yourself warned.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.