Leni Zumas's haunting debut novel, The Listeners, depicts a family struggling with loss and faced with the difficulty of honoring a loved one's memory while letting go of grief.
Hypnotic and profoundly disquieting, The Listeners explores a far-out world where a patchwork of memory, sensation, and imagination maps the flickering presence of ghosts. This is the story of a woman whose life is shaped by tragedy. Quinn is thirtysomething, a survivor of a fractured and eccentric childhood marred by the death of her younger sister. Twenty years later, she is in the midst of a decade-long slide down the other side of punk-rock stardom after her successful music career was abruptly halted. Sassy and smart, tough but broken, Quinn is at loose ends. She develops unique strategies for coping, but no matter what twisted tactic Quinn conjures to keep her psyche intact, she cannot keep the past away. The Listeners is about what lurks in the shadows and what happens when what's lurking insists on being seen. Leni Zumas portrays a world twisted on its axis by loss, in all its grotesque beauty. From the first line the prose is glorious: pricklingly honest and hallucinatory, a lucid dream world realized. The Listeners marks the debut of a major American writer.
Zumas s debut novel comes at the reader in over a hundred self-contained, lucid pieces: a visit to a doctor in which Quinn, the teenage narrator, is ominously evasive about her weight loss; siblings bantering around the dinner table in a free fall of time; a dream of octopi, creatures that become a motif, much like John Irving s bear. Even happy memories have a melancholy undertone because Quinn is grieving the death of her sister, who is also revealed in fragments ( She became a woman three months before she died ). Of siblings Fod, Mert, and Riley, Riley is the most three-dimensional and the closest to Quinn. Zumas s tone is crisply naturalistic, slightly off center, and downright surreal, sometimes all at once, though often starting as one and drifting into another. The novel s tantalizing form approximates Quinn s mental and emotional state; she isn t in the traditional fog of grief, she s hyper-observant and arch: The pong of cheap meat and fry oil hung on the air, and From the subway I climbed to a street ateem with suited normals and walking-homers.... For all this, plot threads are mostly explicable, creating a compelling build-it-yourself tapestry of cherished memories and open wounds.