After the pleasure of reading Septimus Heap Book One: Magyk last week, I decided to dive into another free offering from my friends at Barnes & Noble. Listen, by Rene Gutteridge, pushes us to think twice about what we say about other people in a world the dangers of being overheard by a friend of a friend are compounded by the permanent ink that the internet is written in.
Damien Underwood is the op-ed writer for Marlo’s local newspaper but he pushes for more responsibilities and is granted his wish pulling double duty as an investigative reporter too, and just in time. The overly idyllic town of Marlo is turned on its head when a website appears with candid conversations from its members, conversations that does more than quickly turn neighbors and friends against one another, they bring out their violent sides.
Damien isn’t the only one whose job gets busier with the website. Damien’s long-time best friend and local police officer, Frank Merrit, goes all over the town responding to calls with the rookie recently forced upon him. The website brings a number of pieces of Frank’s life into conflict as the ex-wife he isn’t over see-saws between threatening a restraining order and begging for help. Damien’s wife, Kay (probably the worst realtor in Marlo as she cancelled or postponed every showing she had during the course of the book), spends most of the novel agonizing over their teenage daughter’s clothes and friends while behaving much cattier and whining far more than her daughter.
The message of Gutteridge’s novel couldn’t be clearer (it is actually spelled out for the reader at least five times during the book). The novel is painted in extremes. Marlo is even proclaimed to be the best place in America to raise children. There is no build-up to the violence that the website causes. Forget there being believable petty arguments or neighborly disputes over noise levels, boundary lines, and parking along the road (an unfortunate pet’s unsolved demise is the first incident linked, at least in words, to the website).
There is a religious tinge to the novel that I wasn’t expecting and that can easily undermine Gutteridge’s already blatant message by alienating readers. This is the one area where there is no extreme but it still manages to stick out. The characters aren’t very religious and though they are drawn closer to faith, the incidents don’t actually bring them to religion. Their brush with the church in time of trouble and then it not lasting, not even being addressed again, rang with insincerity and was unnecessary.
There was one twist that was a real risk but I felt it paid off, even if the circumstances surrounding this particular incident felt forced (if pieces of the plot were worked around this particular plot point, it explains a lot of the novel that had an air of disconnect from the rest of the novel). But that risk wasn’t enough to overcome the fact that there was too much going on in the book. The transitions between the chapters tended to be choppy and there was little sense of time passing in any way that made sense. There is no reference to what state Marlo is in, probably in an attempt to be universal, but it just gave me the impression of season not matching the proclaimed time of year.
I’m not sure I’ll be paying for any of Gutteridge’s other novels but if another free one comes my way, it may find it’s way onto my shelf. For now, however, I think I shall take a break from Barnes & Noble’s free books and get back to the ones that have been sitting on my shelf for a while.