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Songs Without Words by Ann Packer
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Songs Without Words (original 2007; edition 2008)

by Ann Packer

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6782914,094 (3.15)15
Member:CatieN
Title:Songs Without Words
Authors:Ann Packer
Info:Vintage (2008), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 384 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
Tags:literary fiction

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Songs Without Words by Ann Packer (2007)

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Showing 1-5 of 29 (next | show all)
I so much wanted to like this book. It takes place just a few miles from where I live, deals with daughters in high school, I was completely ready to fall in love with this book. But, I found the characters whiny and could not relate to the emotional swings or depression that swamped both the teenage and adult characters. ( )
  jmoncton | Jun 3, 2013 |
Sarabeth's mother killed herself when Sarabeth & Liz were 16. The book takes place when they are adults. Liz's daughter is depressed, and her daughter's suicide attempt strains both Liz's marriage and her friendship with Sarabeth.

It's partly about sisterhood/friendship, partly about depression, partly about communication, partly about family relationships.

A slow-paced book, but not bad. ( )
  LDVoorberg | Apr 7, 2013 |
I read this one pretty slowly; I didn't want it to end. It's not one of those books where you want to get lost in its little world, because it feels very real already. Sometimes it's the real side of life we want to escape by reading. Two characters in the book are very depressed, and their actions and thoughts are ones I recognized pretty well.

I was struck by Ms. Packer's dialogue. She has a very good ear for how people talk, to the point that a couple times I had to read passages out loud in order to understand what was really being said. That may sound like it wasn't well written ... and perhaps it was a flaw in the writing, or perhaps it was just lazy reading on my part ... but I found the story to be enriched by these details, even if they were a bit more challenging to follow. ( )
  periwinklejane | Mar 29, 2013 |
So many reviewers point to how "depressing" and "boring" this book is. Although I didn't find it so, I can see the "depressing" point. I actually found it a rather hopeful story, exploring how someone can be buried in profound despair and still find a way back up to the surface.

And boring? It's certainly character-driven and most of the action is internal, but I was never bored while reading it. I was sometimes annoyed when a character made a choice or came to a conclusion contrary to what I wanted for them, but I wasn't bored. The writing was so skillful and the characters so real, I can't imagine being bored by this book.

I see the book as mainly about the reactions of three women to life. Liz is emotionally healthy and used to acting as the support and the voice of reason to those struggling around her. When faced with a crisis, she's forced to reevaluate her life, but she does so in a sane and healthy manner. Sarabeth had an unstable childhood due to her mother's mental illness and perceives even small events in her life as crises. She's not necessarily the owner of the depression she feels, but she's learned it from her mother and doesn't know quite how to stop it. Lauren is deeply and biologically depressed. The depression originates in her despite a loving and stable home environment.

Packer's description of Liz's "knocked off her feet but picking herself up and dusting herself off" reaction to her daughter's suicide attempt and Sarabeth's "can't get out of bed" reaction to, well, life, was an interesting juxtaposition. Sarabeth's relationship with her mother left her with this kind of learned helplessness that I suppose is somewhat pathetic. She believes that she can't possibly do anything to change or improve her situation, so she doesn't try. She relies on well-adjusted Liz to pull her out of each funk, and when Liz isn't there, it sends her into a tailspin, but it also forces her to choose whether she's like her mother or whether she can make a different choice. That's a hopeful element in the novel, although I am a little skeptical about just how fully recovered Sarabeth seems to be at the end. Can someone really make that big a shift in their lifelong thinking that quickly?

Being inside Lauren's head was just riveting to me. I felt frustrated that she couldn't just stop thinking her negative thoughts, but at the same time it was written in a way that made sense (and felt familiar): How could she possibly not think that way? How could she think those things about herself, believe them, then let them go? The answer is pretty mundane (therapy, medication), but the internal journey is what I find interesting. And I like that even when she's feeling better, there's the recognition that she's not done. She's going to be confronting these thoughts throughout her life, probably. Her task isn't to vanquish them once and for all but to develop skills to cope with them as they come up.

What was strange to me about this book is that I wasn't bothered that much by Packer's mention of the names of businesses and streets in the story. Usually this kind of name-dropping drives me nuts. I admit, I think the mention of Berkeley Bowl and Andronico's didn't further the story, but the street names I think actually enhanced the story. Maybe it's just because I lived in the Bay Area recently and the street names helped me place the characters in the world and see better where they were. Or maybe it's just that excitement of, "Hey! I know where that is! And it's in a book! I must be important!"

Perhaps it's just because I'm a boring, depressing person who gets a kick out of reading about places she's lived, but I liked this book, and I look forward to reading The Dive from Clausen's Pier. ( )
  ImperfectCJ | Dec 31, 2012 |
After Packer's debut novel (The Dive from Clausen's Pier, which I enormously loved and HIGHLY recommend), I was really looking forward to reading this book (her third book, second novel). What a disappointment.

The story starts with Liz and Sarabeth as adolescents. They live near each other and their relationship is like that of sisters, owing in part to Sarabeth's mother's suicide.

The novel quickly flashes forward to the pair in their adult life. Sarabeth is single and has become estranged from the married man with whom she was having an affair. Liz is now married with a teenaged daughter (Lauren) and a son several years younger than Lauren (Joe). It soon becomes painfully obvious that Lauren is depressed and she attempts to kills herself.

This tests the relationship between Liz and Sarabeth, as the jacket copy promised. But it was in really ridiculous ways. To go into it further would spoil the utterly incompetently written book, but I'll say that it was as if the author tried WAY too hard to go out of her way to be unpredictable. But then she failed by ending the book in a completely predictable way, so I'm not sure why she wasted my time with those 300 pages in the middle.

Plus, it annoyed me that this book had a Lorelei, Lauren, and Liz, and Joe and a Jim, and a handful of other alliterative names. How difficult is it to come up with OTHER names? Throw me a Ralph or a Zelda!

I really hope her third novel returns to "Clausen's Pier"-level of writing. ( )
  minjung | Nov 27, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0375412816, Hardcover)

Ann Packer’s debut novel, The Dive from Clausen’s Pier, was a nationwide best seller that established her as one of our most gifted chroniclers of the interior lives of women. Now, in her long-awaited second novel, she takes us on a journey into a lifelong friendship pushed to the breaking point. Expertly, with the keen introspection and psychological nuance that are her hallmarks, she explores what happens when there are inequities between friends and when the hard-won balances of a long relationship are disturbed, perhaps irreparably, by a harrowing crisis.

Liz and Sarabeth were childhood neighbors in the suburbs of northern California, brought as close as sisters by the suicide of Sarabeth’s mother when the girls were just sixteen. In the decades that followed—through Liz’s marriage and the birth of her children, through Sarabeth’s attempts to make a happy life for herself despite the shadow cast by her mother’s act—their relationship remained a source of continuity and strength. But when Liz’s adolescent daughter enters dangerous waters that threaten to engulf the family, the fault lines in the women’s friendship are revealed, and both Liz and Sarabeth are forced to reexamine their most deeply held beliefs about their connection. Songs Without Words is about the sometimes confining roles we take on in our closest relationships, about the familial myths that shape us both as children and as parents, and about the limits—and the power—of the friendships we create when we are young.

Once again, Ann Packer has written a novel of singular force and complexity: thoughtful, moving, and absolutely gripping, it more than confirms her prodigious literary gifts.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:29:32 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Chronicles the long-time friendship between Liz and Sarabeth, a relationship that is forged in childhood and sustained through the decades that follow, until both women are forced to reexamine their lives in the wake of a devastating crisis.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 4 descriptions

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