SONGS WITHOUT WORDS by Ann Packer

I am back from BEA! It was a great time in NY. I had two fun days of walking the floor, learning about new books, meeting some authors, and catching up with book bloggers. I made it to half of the Book Blogger Convention on Friday, and particularly enjoyed a session on working with publishers. Best of all – I got to spend a lot of time with my BEA roomie, Nicole from Linus' Blanket. We seem to have an endless supply of book-related topics to discuss.

The books I am most excited about getting at BEA: the new Tom Perrotta book The Leftovers (I told him that if anyone could get me into dystopian fiction, it's him); Girls in White Dresses, which I heard author Jennifer Close read from on Thursday, and… if I dare admit this… the audiobook I picked up of the Sweet Valley Confidential ten-years-later novel, which is supposed to be pretty dumb but which I simply cannot wait to devour.

I picked up many others – I will include a fuller list when my boxes arrive from New York.

Packer I just finished Ann Packer's Songs Without Words. I read her The Dive from Clausen's Pier many years ago (pre-blogging), and picked up this one at Politics & Prose over Christmas. (Hi FTC! Yep, another book I paid good hard cash for.) It is billed as a story about two friends – Sarabeth and Liz – whose relationship is put to the test when Liz, who is used to being Sarabeth's caretaker, finds that she needs Sarabeth's support when her teenage daughter Lauren attempts suicide. Sarabeth, whose own mother took her life when Sarabeth was 16, finds herself unable to give Liz the support she needs, and their relationship is severely strained. 

Songs Without Words is really more of a chronicle of how Lauren's suicide attempt affects everyone in her family, as well as Sarabeth. Packer is an extremely detailed writer, and the book is full of the minutiae of Lauren's family's lives. I generally enjoy detailed stories, but Packer goes to an extreme here. Not that much actually happens in the book. Aside from Lauren's actions, I kept expecting drama to ensue in each chapter – something that would reward me for all of the careful reading – but it really didn't happen. Lauren slowly gets better, and Liz and Sarabeth slowly work their way toward reconciliation. There is a lot of depression in the book, and Packer does a good job of conveying the helpless meandering and defeat that often accompanies the condition. The book ends on a hopeful note, but again, there is no great payoff. 

I mostly listened to this book on audio, except for the last quarter or so, which I read. I did enjoy the process of reading the book. But I have to say that looking back now that I am done, I am not sure it was worth the effort of listening and reading. The payoff, as noted above, is just too small. 

The narrator on the audio version had an irritating habit of overannunciating words, like "kiTCH-hen", which was annoying after a while. I think she also reads pretty slowly, as I would listen for a good chunk of time and find that it had only covered a few pages. (I just discovered that she's a pretty popular audio narrator – Cassandra Campbell – who also narrated the audio version of The Help).

Overall, I can't really recommend Songs Without Words too strongly. I enjoyed the process of reading it but ultimately found it unsatisfying. Would love to hear any other opinions!

7 Comments

  • May 30, 2011 - 6:50 am | Permalink

    Well, you won’t get any other opinions from me. I was so excited to see this book listed on your “Now Reading” tab a few weeks ago because I don’t know anyone except for me who has read this. I completely agree with your review except I think I was even more disappointed than you were. I found this novel so colorless. Not only was there a conspicuous lack of drama but even the central plot catalyst – Lauren’s suicide attempt – came to seem strangely insignificant very soon after it happened. “Clausen’s Pier” was so plot-driven that I thought this was a strange mistake to make, but maybe it’s the typical “sophomore novel” syndrome, like Curtiss Sittenfeld’s disappointing second novel. But Sittenfeld came back strong in her third one and I know Packer’s new collection of short stories is getting good reviews, so maybe that will be the case here as well. That said, I did like the character of Liz; she had some interesting traits (like her mild but chronic guilt about being so domestically inclined despite her Stanford education). Overall I just found this novel to have a really lukewarm feel. Glad I’m not alone.

  • May 30, 2011 - 4:22 pm | Permalink

    I enjoyed The Dive from Clausen’s Pier when I read it several years but this book sounds a little tedious and heavy with little reward. I don’t think I’l be reading this book any time soon.
    Thank you for your honst review :o)

  • May 30, 2011 - 8:49 pm | Permalink

    I was also super excited to get Tom Perrotta’s new book! I totally had butterflies in my stomach when meeting him, something that doesn’t often happen for me anymore.

  • May 31, 2011 - 2:14 am | Permalink

    I am so sorry the book didn’t work for you, as I read her previous book, Dive from Clausen’s Pier was a terrific read. But I read it at least 4 years ago. Can’t remember much from it, but only that I enjoyed reading. Thanks for the post. Looking forward to hearing about the books that were featured at BEA.

  • Melissa
    June 1, 2011 - 1:43 pm | Permalink

    Songs Without Words has been on my bookshelf for eons. I HAD to buy it after I loved Dive From Clausen’s Pier so much (do you know they made a Lifetime movie based on that book?) I’m also excited to hear about a new Tom Perrotta book. I gave several copies of Abstinence Teacher as gifts one year since I liked it so much!

  • June 4, 2011 - 9:57 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the warning about the level of detail in the book – I really enjoyed the Dive from Clausen’s Pier and probably would have picked this one up just based on my experience with her first novel.
    I got an ARC of Girls in White Dresses too at BEA and am looking forward to it!

  • Pingback: Everyday I Write the Book » THE LAST SUMMER (OF YOU AND ME) by Ann Brashares

  • Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *