** SPOILER ALERT: This HarperCollins review contains spoilers for the short story “Silence is Deadly.” **
Please Note: The interpretation portrayed in this review is just one interpretation.
HarperCollins Editor (December 6, 2011):
“Silence is Deadly” was a powerful piece of work that was at times, very difficult to read. We receive lots of submissions dealing with abusive parents at Inkpop but very few make it through to the top cuts — this is a striking piece of writing and deserves to be in this month’s top selections.
It’s very easy to be indulgent and melodramatic when writing family dramas but you manage to stay away from that tone and show the protagonist’s vulnerability instead. I loved the way the story started out with a relatively positive message, that the girl wanted to change everything. You pull the reader in by addressing a powerful, emotive situation — clearly abuse is taking place and clearly, she’s going to try to exercise some sort of power to alter the life she and her brother are trapped in. [However,] when the reveal comes at the end when we see how the girl effects change, it’s quite startling. I was a little shaken when I realised she’d killed herself, so well done for managing to pull off a shock in the middle of such an emotive piece of writing.
By staying considered and calm, the protagonist’s actions are all the more a surprise.
You also take an interesting route in your portrayal of the father in this story. It would be obvious to paint him as a one-dimensional, cold monster but you actually create quite a complicated picture. Not only are we given a reason for his actions but he even receives his dead daughter’s forgiveness at the end. I found the paragraph, ‘He was the kind of man who could leave me absolutely speechless…’ to be the most unsettling. The writing here almost suggests an adult relationship, something almost sexual, but we discover that [the] girl never grows up to echo her violent relationship with her father in later life. It is a very unnerving paragraph and really put me on edge as I read. Great stuff.
I also found it jarring to read the girl repeatedly refer to her father as ‘daddy’. It was such an innocent and sweet term for someone with whom her relationship was so dark and damaged. That might be something you revisit in future draft as it was more off-putting than testing.
I actually thought the ending was a little out of place on my first reading. I didn’t want the father to find forgiveness. He was the cause of this bright, loving girl’s death, [and] her brother’s agony. [However,] on further reading, I came to the conclusion that the detached, measured tone of the work only works if there is a resolution at the end and the girl decides that the only way to effect change is to die.
This makes for a very powerful message and one I am impressed that you were brave enough to tell.
Teen suicide, family abuse and desertion are difficult subjects to handle and you do so here with finesse. The ability to maintain such a measured, calm tone throughout makes the piece effective in a way other stories cannot manage by opting for melodrama over clarity. Fantastic work.