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Listen to Me

Listen to Me

2.7 3
by Hannah Pittard

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A modern gothic about a marriage and road trip gone hauntingly awry

Mark and Maggie's annual drive east to visit family has gotten off to a rocky start. By the time they're on the road, it's late, a storm is brewing, and they are no longer speaking to one another. Adding to the stress, Maggie — recently mugged at gunpoint —


A modern gothic about a marriage and road trip gone hauntingly awry

Mark and Maggie's annual drive east to visit family has gotten off to a rocky start. By the time they're on the road, it's late, a storm is brewing, and they are no longer speaking to one another. Adding to the stress, Maggie — recently mugged at gunpoint — is lately not herself, and Mark is at a loss about what to make of the stranger he calls his wife. When they are forced to stop for the night at a remote inn, completely without power, Maggie's paranoia reaches an all-time and terrifying high. But when Mark finds himself threatened in a dark parking lot, it’s Maggie who takes control.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Erica Wagner
As Mark and Maggie travel, south through Indiana, Ohio, into West Virginia, Pittard proves herself a master of ordinary suspense: Two people, once so familiar to each other, suddenly seem strangers, each questioning the other's motives in ways that, taken individually, would mean nothing at all. Taken together those questions disorient both the characters and the reader in a manner that contains none of the melodrama of (say) Gone Girl—but that carries far more conviction.
Publishers Weekly
A road trip from Chicago to Virginia is transformed into a complex mental journey in Pittard’s (Reunion) third novel. Mark and Maggie, a 30-something couple, are coping with the aftermath of Maggie’s mugging at gunpoint. To make matters worse, an attacker with a similar MO subsequently murdered a neighbor. Mark decides to push up the date of their annual visit to his parents’ cottage in Virginia to give Maggie—who has taken to wearing a bathrobe, zoning out and scouring the Internet for negative stories, and hiding a knife under the mattress—a much-needed break. Soon into their journey, a destructive storm forces them to find shelter in an out-of-the-way hotel. While the storm rages outside, the characters contemplate their own inner storms. Mark, a college professor, frustrated and baffled by his wife’s increasing dysfunction, considers an affair with a former research assistant, while feeling fiercely protective of his wife. Maggie, a veterinarian, stymied by her fears, longs to get back to her normal self. Chilling events ratchet up the suspense as well as magnify the couple’s strengths and weaknesses in Pittard’s memorable examination of the precarious terrain of marriage. (July)
From the Publisher
New York Times Book Review "Editors' Choice"​
An Entertainment Weekly “Seriously Scary Summer Read”

A Washington Post “Best Summer Thriller”
A The Millions "Most Anticipated" Book
A Lit Hub "Buzz Book"
A Refinery29 "Best Book of 2016 So Far"
A New Yorker “Book We Loved 2016”

"We continue to love thrillers and especially love this one. In Pittard’s unconventional novel, a couple on a road trip deal with raging storms and their own fraying marriage." —The New York Times Book Review

“Hannah Pittard’s 'Listen to Me' is a quiet, revelatory novel that exposes the inner workings of a marriage along a harrowing road trip.”—The New Yorker

"Hannah Pittard's captivating third novel, Listen to Me, focuses on a smart, attractive couple who have reached that point, not unknown in marriage, when partners fear that the person they love is driving them crazy. Pittard, having introduced these troubled lovers, sends them on a journey across America that soon places their lives in peril. You won't put this story down...Pittard is operating at a level few writers attain. [She] deserves the attention of anyone in search of today's best fiction." —The  Washington Post

"[Listen to Me] gripped me completely and even gave me nightmares, which is high praise in my book."—The Chicago Tribune

"The book is an examination of trauma, perseverance, and trust in both yourself and the people you love; to read it is to be at once engrossed and unsettled.”  Buzzfeed

“Thrilling and suspenseful, Listen to Me digs into the ways in which the person you trust the most can fast become a stranger—forcing you to question whether you knew them at all to begin with.” Refinery29

"You won’t be able to put down this thrilling, quick read." —Real Simple

“Mark and Maggie's relationship is as strained as can be, fraught after Maggie's world was shattered by a mugging at gunpoint. But when the couple goes on their annual trip, Maggie's newfound paranoia may be the thing that saves them from certain danger. Pittard writes with a unique gusto, and you'll be riveted the entire way through.” Bustle

"Winner of the Amanda Davis Award from McSweeney’s and author of the novels Reunion and The Fates Will Find Their Way, Pittard now brings us the story of a young married couple, Mark and Maggie, on a road trip gone wrong. Maggie’s recently been robbed at gun point, and by the time they stop for the night at an out-of-the-way inn (without power), the two aren’t even speaking to one another. Frederick Barthelme calls it 'a positively Hitchcockian misadventure.’" —The Millions

"Listen to Me elides so many genres that it’s Houdini-like, bursting through constraints. It moves between its two characters’ inner lives as effortlessly as an Olympic swimmer strokes through water.”—Ann Beattie, The Paris Review blog

Listen To Me reminds us that even good marriages are hard work. And that the world can be a scary place, because we secretly want it to be, even need it to be. Pittard's story is meaningful and satisfying—even if you never find out who will see you on an empty road in the middle of the night.”—The Oregonian

“Pittard's fast-moving story recalls a legion of American writers from Hawthorne to McCarthy, each chronicling existential encounters framed by the wilderness and exposing the heart of darkness, both out there in the night and within the searching self.” —The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“Pittard writes her characters' vulnerable, inappropriate, selfish, trivial, scary thoughts with cringeworthy honesty…[she] may write about the things that no one likes talking about, but readers should listen when one of her characters brings it up.” —Philly Voice

“A perfect summer read…”—Louisville Courier-Journal
"Pittard's glistening new novel... opens up to show not just the depth and potential shattering points of all close relationships but also how danger—and, yes, evil—lurk at the outskirts of our lives, threatening to upend us unexpectedly...Pitch-perfect in language and ominous in mood, Pittard's narrative telescopes enormous emotion and insight into a brief, compelling read." —Library Journal, Starred Review

“A road trip from Chicago to Virginia is transformed into a complex mental journey in Pittard’s (Reunion) third novel... Chilling events ratchet up the suspense as well as magnify the couple’s strengths and weaknesses in Pittard’s memorable examination of the precarious terrain of marriage.” —Publishers Weekly

"Pittard skillfully alternates between the points of view of Mark and Maggie, who often tell readers much more than they’ve told one another. Perfect for those who like to observe characters’ minds and relationships from the backseat." —Booklist

“The setup of Pittard's third novel is a simple and effective one: a cross-country journey in which an already-frayed marriage is pushed to its limit, even as the landscape through which the characters travel turns increasingly ominous… there's plenty of moodiness and societal commentary to be found in Pittard's taut novel.” —Kirkus

"It's a rare novel that expertly portrays a totally normal marriage, but Listen to Me also reminds readers that it's the normal patterns of a long-term relationship that allow it to survive."  Shelf Awareness

“Hannah Pittard's got the goods. There's no doubt about it. Listen to Me has a way of making you uneasy from the get go. Maybe it’s the approaching storm, the dark night, all the terrible things that might be hiding around the corner. Or maybe it’s just how much the main characters, with all of their faults and scars and frustrated desires, remind us of ourselves.  Regardless, this is a psychologically complex, addictive, and quick moving read.  I didn't want it to end!”—M.O. Walsh, author of New York Times bestselling novel My Sunshine Away

“Listen to Me is the sort of novel you want to read in one sitting: suspenseful, unsettling, and beautifully written. Hannah Pittard goes into one couple’s dark night of the soul with surprising charm and wit, but also with a fierce and intelligent honesty.” —Dean Bakopoulos, author of Summerlong

“In Listen to Me, Hannah Pittard takes the reader on a married couple’s chilling road trip.  The dangers and mishaps of the physical journey provide enormous suspense but still greater are all the fears each houses within.  Pittard is a gifted writer with an excellent eye for the intricate details that shape a relationship.”—Jill McCorkle, author of Life After Life

“An unflinching look at the tightrope walk of marriage, Hannah Pittard’s Listen to Me holds a mirror up to our own twisted and hopeful idiosyncrasies. Pittard is an expert guide to the dark places of the soul, revealing how the smallest shift of balance in our fragile psyches can set off a chain of mini-detonations. But like the rain that accompanies this journey across America’s heartland, Pittard’s close empathy is a clarifying wash. This is the best kind of road trip novel: one where the tension drowns out the radio.”—Katy Simpson Smith, author of The Story of Land and Sea

“Hannah Pittard’s Listen to Me is a dazzling new novel with a perfectly-drawn forty-something couple on a positively Hitchcockian misadventure. As the suspense grows, their world turns darker and more menacing, threatened by violent weather and bizarre people, like the cowboy who, out of nowhere, remarks on Maggie’s appearance—or does he? By then you know you’re in for the duration, a ride into the heart of darkness, West Virginia style, where, after a night in hell and a heartbreakingly high price, they find what they’re looking for—a way out, a second chance.”—Frederick Barthelme, author of There Must Be Some Mistake and Waveland

“In the shadows of meticulously-planned domestic bliss, far from the pages of social media, young couples are discovering how little they know the ones they love. The story of Maggie and Mark, their fears, and their misconceptions, is told with propulsive clarity, elegance, and wit. Listen to Me captures a cultural moment with stunning prescience, and Hannah Pittard’s prose reads like a memory in waiting.”—Michael Pitre, author of Fives and Twenty-Fives

“Hannah Pittard's Listen to Me is a strange and wonderful book about the mysteries of coupledom and the long surreal highways of America. It's written in a lean and elegant prose and I read these pages in one long and enthralled sitting."—Darcey Steinke, author of Suicide Blonde and Sister Golden Hair
Library Journal
★ 03/01/2016
The story of a fraught road trip undertaken by a couple whose marriage is under stress, Pittard's glistening new novel (after Reunion) only seems to be in miniature. In fact, it opens up to show not just the depth and potential shattering points of all close relationships but also how danger—and, yes, evil—lurk at the outskirts of our lives, threatening to upend us unexpectedly. College professor Mark and his wife, Maggie, a veterinarian, are traveling from Chicago to his family's East Coast home because Mark senses they need a break; after a mugging, Maggie has become brooding and suspicious, not the woman Mark married. They leave late, with Maggie intent on giving their dog, Gerome, a good walk beforehand, and they're mostly bickering or silent as evening and tornado-grade storms approach. As Mark wrestles with thoughts of a former student and Maggie zigzags between tenderness and paranoia, a blackout descends, and they go off the beaten path to seek a place to stay. At a dark hotel, they find a bed and some real closeness, but tragedy erupts in a moment, leaving their future tentative if tentatively hopeful. VERDICT Pitch-perfect in language and ominous in mood, Pittard's narrative telescopes enormous emotion and insight into a brief, compelling read. [See Prepub Alert, 1/11/16.]—Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal
Kirkus Reviews
A husband and wife deal with their growing estrangement and the aftereffects of violence as they make an increasingly hazardous road trip. The setup of Pittard's third novel is a simple and effective one: a cross-country journey in which an already-frayed marriage is pushed to its limit, even as the landscape through which the characters travel turns increasingly ominous. Mark and Maggie are traveling east from Chicago to visit family along with their dog, Gerome. Maggie is still struggling with the psychological fallout of a mugging, and the affinity the two once felt has withered, making the minor quarrels of a long drive take on added significance. The fact that they're traveling through an area suffering from a power outage ratchets up the tension further. The novel is at its strongest when Pittard evokes the instability that can arise on the margins of catastrophic events: the effects of the outage on familiar roadside sights lends a memorable sense of disquiet to the proceedings. An ambiguous encounter between Maggie and a stranger at a rest stop is equally haunting: has she encountered a sociopath in transit, or have the aftereffects of trauma altered her perception of everyday situations? For all that Pittard effectively builds tension throughout the book, its conclusion does feel somewhat rushed, as a random interaction with a minor character escalates quickly, as opposed to a more organic resolution. Pittard does leave some ambiguity with the hopeful note with which she closes, and Mark's musings on technology and community provide an interesting counterpoint to the proceedings. Though its conclusion feels abrupt, there's plenty of moodiness and societal commentary to be found in Pittard's taut novel.

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 7.80(h) x 1.10(d)

Read an Excerpt

Listen to me and I will speak: but first swear, by word
and hand, that you will keep me safe with all your heart.
—Homer, The Iliad

auto |
         n. a motor car.
ORIGIN late 19th cent.: abbreviation of AUTOMOBILE.

auto- |
         comb. form
         self: autoanalysis
one’s own: autobiography
by one’s self: automatic
by itself: automaton
ORIGIN from Greek: autos ‘self.’


They were on the road later than they intended. They’d wanted to make Indianapolis by noon, but they overslept. Mark offered to walk the dog while Maggie packed up the car. He’d wanted her to pack up the car the night before, but Maggie said it was nuts to leave a car full of luggage on a side street in Chicago.
     “Every time,” she’d said. “We go through this every time.”
     “You worry too much,” he said.
     “Maybe you don’t worry enough.”
     It was dark by the time they’d had this argument and late, which meant Maggie had already won.
     And so, in the morning, it was Mark — as promised — who took the dog out so that Maggie could arrange the car. But downstairs, in the private entrance to their apartment — private entrance! It had taken forever, but three years ago they’d finally found the perfect apartment with its own perfectly private entrance, which they didn’t have to share with a single other person, a fact that, to this day, continued to bring Maggie sharp, if fleeting, pleasure — was the week’s recycling, just sitting there at the bottom of the stairs. Mark swore he’d taken it out.
     Clearly, he hadn’t.
     She put down the luggage and was about to pick up the bin to do the job herself when she saw it: a pink-gold length of foil peeking up from beneath a newspaper. She pushed the paper aside.
     Her heart sank — exactly what she thought: the foil was attached to an empty bottle of champagne. Her bottle of champagne. Hers and Mark’s, from their last anniversary. She’d been saving it. For what, she didn’t know. But she’d liked looking at it every now and then where she’d stashed it above the refrigerator next to the cookbooks. True, it had been a while since she’d taken any real note of the thing. Even so. It made her sad to think he’d thrown it out without ceremony, which was an overly sentimental concern — did an empty bottle truly merit ceremony? — but what was she going to do? Suddenly become a different person?
     According to the Enneagram, which she’d taken on the recommendation of her therapist — former therapist, Maggie had stopped seeing her three weeks ago — everyone emerged from childhood with a basic personality type. Maggie’s was Loyalist. Think: committed, hard-working, reliable. Also according to the Enneagram (she’d done some recent reading on her own), people didn’t change from their basic type. Instead, throughout their lives, they vacillate between nine different levels within their type, the healthiest being a One.
     Lately, Maggie was about an Eight. Think: paranoia, hysteria, irrational behavior. Her goal, by the end of the summer, was to be back at her usual Three or Four. There wasn’t an overnight solution.
     She picked up the bottle. Even empty, its weight was significant. Mark had splurged because they could. Because life was good and on what else were they going to spend their money? “There are no luggage racks on hearses,” they sometimes said to one another. “Spend it if you’ve got it.” Mostly they were joking — they never spent beyond their means. But it was only just the two of them. They had no children’s educations to consider, and so why not enjoy an extravagance every once in a while?
     She tore off a sliver of the pink foil — the tiniest of keepsakes! — then slipped it into her back pocket. Perhaps Mark was testing her, measuring her steadiness by relieving her of an ultimately trivial trinket. Yet he’d been so patient these last nine months, so generous with his affection — kissing her shoulder before clearing the table, squeezing her hand before falling asleep. Sure, they’d quarreled about the luggage and maybe the last three weeks had been more strained than usual, but quarrels, as Maggie and her former therapist had discussed, were the latticework of relationships. They were the branches — interlacing the pattern, strengthening the structure — that sheltered them and kept them together.
     She put the bottle back in the bin, right at the very top. She didn’t need to say a thing about it. She would pass his test with flying colors.
     Mark and Gerome were crossing the street when she emerged from the front door.
     “What are you doing?” said Mark.
     “The recycling,” she said. She held up the bin. “You didn’t take it out.”
     She watched his eyes; they didn’t acknowledge the bottle.
     “Gerome didn’t do anything,” Mark said.
     Maggie looked down at Gerome, who was looking up at her and wagging his tail. He sneezed.
     “What do you mean?” she said.
     “He didn’t go.”
     “He always goes.”
     Gerome was still wagging his tail.
     “You’re driving him crazy with the recycling.” Mark held out his hands to take it.
     “You don’t do it right,” she said.
     “If I chuck it all at once or put it in piece by piece doesn’t matter. It all goes to the same place, whether it’s broken or not.”
     Maggie shrugged. He was right. She knew he was right. She wasn’t an idiot, but there was something so gloomy about Mark carelessly hurling it all away. Just as there was something equally gloomy about watching the homeless man who walked their alley take off his gloves one finger at a time before searching the recycling for refundable bottles. It was silly to think their bottles and cans contributed anything significant to the man’s well-being, but she couldn’t help it. The thought of him fingering broken bits of glass made her heart ache. Of course, she hadn’t actually seen anyone going through the trash since autumn, as she hadn’t taken out the recycling since her mugging, and yet here she was still thinking about it, and here it was filling her afresh with sadness, a condition both new and not new.
     For nine months, the sadness had been a constant — a heavy, dull fog lingering greedily about the nape of her neck. She was aware of it in the morning when she woke, in the afternoon when she worked, in the evening when she scoured the Internet, seeking out the most miserable stories of human woe.
     When Mark came home from teaching, he’d sometimes find her in front of the computer. He would ask, “What are you doing?” And she’d say, “Reading the Internet. Reading about this girl who just died. Reading about this boy who was killed. Reading about this teenager who kidnapped a jogger and took her body apart limb by limb.” He had been so devoted the first few months after the incident in the alley, when the sadness was pushing down around her. He would close the computer, take her hand, lead her to the living room, and read aloud to her. He had a magnificent reading voice. Sometimes he chose a bit of poetry. Sometimes history or philosophy. They both liked Augustine and stories of war. Yeats was also a favorite. Mark would occasionally ask about her therapy. The sadness had begun to lift. The appointments had been helping. She stopped seeking out those awful news articles and started reading about other Loyalists online, about their own struggles with fear and personal insecurity. Maggie had felt herself returning. She’d felt the fog lightening, her levels stabilizing. Things with Mark were as good as ever.
     But then, just three weeks ago — out of nowhere and with no warning whatsoever — the police appeared. They showed up at the front door of the apartment with pictures of a body, a coed who lived just down the street. They presented them to Maggie. Why had they let her see them? She hadn’t understood then and still didn’t now. They also presented photos of a man, the one responsible for the coed. Was it the same man? they wanted to know. Was it the man who’d struck Maggie with the butt of a gun and left her for dead not two blocks from where she lived?

Meet the Author

HANNAH PITTARD is the author of the novels Reunion—a LibraryReads selection, Chicago Tribune Editor's Choice, BuzzFeed Top 5 Great Book, People Best New Book, TimeOut Chicago Must-Read, and Good Housekeeping Hot New Novel—and The Fates Will Find Their Way. Her stories have appeared in the American Scholar, McSweeney's, and other publications. She lives in Lexington, Kentucky and teaches fiction at the University of Kentucky's MFA Program in Creative Writing.

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Listen to Me 2.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous 10 days ago
I kept waiting for the book to get going, but it never did. The ending was horrible and depressing. It was also open ended.
SheTreadsSoftly More than 1 year ago
Listen to Me by Hannah Pittard is a highly recommended modern gothic thriller. Mark and Maggie are a forty-something-year-old couple who are going through a rough time in their relationship. The trouble started after Maggie, a veterinarian, was violently mugged. The aftermath left Maggie with an overwhelming fear, PTSD. She is scared of the evil and violence that can seemingly lurk everywhere. Nowhere is safe. Maggie is on the internet, obsessing over terrible, tragic attacks that have happened to other people and imagining they could happen to her. She was getting better, but when the police came by to talk to her because a college student in their neighborhood was killed in a mugging, she loses it again and sinks back into her fear and paranoia. Mark, a college professor, has had enough of the fear, the mace, the internet searches, the thought to get a gun. He wants the old Maggie back, the woman he fell in love with. He decides that they need to take off from their home in Chicago to his parent's country house in Virginia asap to help mend their relationship. As Mark and Maggie, along with her dog Gerome, take off, a storm is brewing, literally. The weather is bad along their route. Electricity is going out in the towns along the way and the rain is pounding down. They need to find some place to stop, but it seems everyplace is full. Perhaps the motel off the highway will have a vacancy. The story is fast paced and takes place over 24 hours. Chapters alternate between the thoughts of Mark and Maggie, which is very effective way to develop both characters in this short novel. The tension builds gradually and your anxiety will be slowly rising as the storms worsen and their trip continues. When you reach the point where just want something to happen to break the tension, you won't want what does happen to be it, but Pittard takes it and makes a powerful social statement with the ending. The writing is quite good. I was very absorbed in the back and forth between Mark and Maggie, what each of them was feeling and thinking apart from the other - the emotions, ruminations, assumptions, and suspicions. They both know their relationship is stressed, but what they share with each other isn't always exactly what they are thinking. This, aside from the startling ending, is the examination of a marriage under duress and how the two very different individuals in this relationship are handling the stress of their expectations. Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher for review purposes.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was an enjoyable read, full of inciteful character studies. The interplay between the husband and wife and the incites into their marriage rang true. However, the ending seemed a bit too emotionally neat. The book is also rather short (about 160 pages on my Nook; Amazon lists it at about 200).