Maggie has been traumatized by a recent mugging. Mark is contemplating an affair. As the married couple sets out on a trip from Chicago to rural Virginia, they are each disgruntled and almost willful in their misunderstanding of one another. Hannah Pittard’s new novel, “Listen to Me,” is an affecting story of a couple in crisis and the ways in which interior narratives and words spoken aloud can be out of sync.
Unspooling over the course of a long day and night in a car, “Listen to Me” is structured such that with each chapter the perspective shifts back and forth between Maggie and Mark. We learn what each truly thinks and fears as well as what secrets they are keeping. As they struggle with their internal storms, they encounter a real and significant storm that hampers their progress and sets up the book’s climatic scene.
Just over midway through the slight novel, Pittard pulls us out of the car and offers a wider view: “And now a pause. A breath. A moment away. Leave the car. Just open the door and step out. Stretch if you must. Stand on the tips of your toes, bend your knees, jump skyward toward the moon — the little that’s illuminated. Don’t worry about your skin. You have no skin here. This is only the imagination — its senses — that’s taking this flight. Move higher, higher, until you have attained the perfect perspective, the better perspective.”
It’s a risky move, taking the reader out of the story and addressing him or her directly. But Pittard has an excellent sense of the rhythm of her tale, and she offers her pause at just the right moment before thrusting us back into the car and toward the book’s final destination.
The book’s ending — heartbreaking, hopeful, and deftly constructed — suggests the power of shared experience to shape and shift our relationships to ourselves and to one another. “Listen to Me” is a quiet book that speaks wisdom about the vagaries of life and love.
What: Hannah Pittard will read from “Listen to Me”
When: 7 p.m. Monday
Where: Prairie Lights Books, 15 S. Dubuque St., Iowa City