Book 79 of my 2016 Reading Challenge
read from October 02 - 04
The Listener by Rachel Basch
Summary (via the book jacket)
Malcolm Down is almost positive he recognizes the freshman who shows up for a session at his office in Baxter College's Center for Behavioral Health - he just can't place her. When suddenly she stands, takes off her wig, and reveals herself as Noah, the young man Malcolm had been treating months earlier, it marks the start of a relationship that will change them both.
After losing his wife at a young age, Malcolm dedicated himself to giving his two daughters the stable, predictable childhood he never had. But now nothing is predictable - not his young adult daughters, not himself, and certainly not Noah. Whether he's attending class or rehearsing for the campus musical, Noah finds he's often challenging everyone's definition of gender. During the course of one semester, Noah's and Malcolm's lives become entwined in ways neither could have imagined.
Told alternately from Malcolm's and Noah's perspectives, The Listener explores the ways in which we conceal and reveal our identities. As truth after truth is exposed, characters are forced to reconsider themselves and reorder their lives, with few easy answers to be found for anyone. The Listener is, ultimately, about the power of human connection and the many shapes that love can take.
The book sucked me in right away and I was so uncomfortable reading it (in a good way) because I don't like secrets and was waiting for something to blow up. It was actually cruising along as a 5 star read until it derailed in the final third. There were added wrinkles that didn't seem necessary, like the author thought there wasn't enough conflict (there was!) and needed to add more. Malcolm's fight with his daughters felt out of place, Leah had another crisis, and all the stuff with Gordon? It just fell apart for me.
In the context it was given, the line "Just as people had different thresholds for pain, he suspected they had different thresholds for the truth" hit me hard. And when Noah tells Malcolm "You don't always get me...But you never make me pick and choose the parts to show you"...isn't that what we all want?
A Few Quotes from the Book
"[Noah] hated that he was so permeable, as if his psyche was a common room where strangers roamed, freely stubbing out cigarettes on the furniture. That's what was wrong with him. Not a gender confusion, but the fact that all of his borders were undefended."
"No one wanted to know everything; they only thought they did, as if the whole truth were a select club from which they couldn't bear to be excluded. But once invited into certain clubs, people often made for the exits."
"But sitting with Cara and Noah today was proof that what you thought and felt mattered not one whit compared to what you said and did. Or what you didn't say and didn't do."