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May 02, 2009

Songs Without Words

This latest book from Ann Packer is another gem about contemporary family life. You may have read her earlier novel 'The Dive from Clausen's Pier' and marvelled at her ability to get inside each character's head and tell events from different perspectives. Her lucid prose and telling descriptions are evident in this new book. Little touches like her description of a minor character, a real estate agent showing a house....."never a hair out of place. Today she stood at the dining room table with her smoked salmon and her flyers, in a tobacco-brown blazer over a high-collared gold silk blouse that was like a display stand for her impeccably made-up face."

Two friends, Sarabeth and Liz, their places in their relationship set by their shared history and separate choices. When Sarabeth was in high school, her mother committed suicide and Sarabeth lived with Liz's family. Liz has, by choice, devoted her life to her family - husband David and two children and has a routine of home making, yoga, and voluntary work; Sarabeth works part-time at a variety of 'arty' jobs and has had a long term unsatisfactory affair with a married man.

David on Sarabeth"...she's going to a gamelan concert know those Indonesian chimes and gongs...Sarabeth was always doing something a little hipper than he and Liz would do on their own, and every third or fourth time, Liz would get a bee in her bonnet and they'd end up in some warehouse in Alameda , watching naked people write on each other or something. On the plus side, it gave him great stories for work."

Sarabeth and Liz don't quite realize that underneath their friendship, they regard each other's lives with 'scorn and envy' until a trauma in Liz's family is the catalyst for a re-assessment of their lives and relationships.


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