Songs Without Words

( 26 )

Overview

Liz and Sarabeth were girlhood neighbors in the suburbs of Northern California, brought as close as sisters by the suicide of Sarabeth's mother. In the decades that followed, their relationship remained a source of continuity and strength. But when Liz's adolescent daughter enters dangerous waters, the women's friendship takes a devastating turn, forcing Liz and Sarabeth to question their most deeply held beliefs about their connection. From the bestselling author of The Dive from Clausen's Pier, Songs Without ...
See more details below
Paperback (Reprint)
$13.12
BN.com price
(Save 12%)$14.95 List Price

Pick Up In Store

Reserve and pick up in 60 minutes at your local store

Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (145) from $1.99   
  • New (9) from $1.99   
  • Used (136) from $1.99   
Songs Without Words

Available on NOOK devices and apps  
  • NOOK Devices
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK
  • NOOK HD/HD+ Tablet
  • NOOK
  • NOOK Color
  • NOOK Tablet
  • Tablet/Phone
  • NOOK for Windows 8 Tablet
  • NOOK for iOS
  • NOOK for Android
  • NOOK Kids for iPad
  • PC/Mac
  • NOOK for Windows 8
  • NOOK for PC
  • NOOK for Mac
  • NOOK for Web

Want a NOOK? Explore Now

NOOK Book (eBook)
$11.99
BN.com price

Overview

Liz and Sarabeth were girlhood neighbors in the suburbs of Northern California, brought as close as sisters by the suicide of Sarabeth's mother. In the decades that followed, their relationship remained a source of continuity and strength. But when Liz's adolescent daughter enters dangerous waters, the women's friendship takes a devastating turn, forcing Liz and Sarabeth to question their most deeply held beliefs about their connection. From the bestselling author of The Dive from Clausen's Pier, Songs Without Words is the gripping story of a lifelong friendship pushed to the breaking point.
Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Packer's voice [has] extraordinary authority. . . . Compassionate, rich in solace.” —The New York Times Book Review“Engrossing, forgiving and quietly wise. . . . Packer keeps both the pages and her readers' minds turning until the very end." —People“Packer has an unnerving ability to gaze steadily at feelings you can barely acknowledge even to yourself. . . . You are grateful for Packer's insight, refreshed and comforted by the depth of her empathy.” —NewsdaySongs Without Words is an eloquent, on occasion harrowing account of friendship and its limits, the mind and its fatal fragilities, and the saving graces of human nature. Packer captures mental pathologies exceptionally well and writes beautifully about despair and love and how they travel together throughout a lifetime.” —Kay Redfield Jamison, author of An Unquiet Mind
Carrie Brown
Packer solidifies the reputation she established in the enormously successful The Dive from Clausen's Pier as an uncannily observant chronicler of contemporary American domestic life. Songs Without Words touches every nerve exposed by the solidly middle-class dilemmas of today's parents and children, husbands and wives, friends and lovers…Packer is no ironist; she is not Claire Messud or Zadie Smith, whose most recent novels unspool under the cool panoramic gaze of a social critic. The characters in Packer's novels are not so much exposed as they are understood…Packer is devoted to her characters, and it is her pleasure as a novelist—and ours as her readers—to watch these people move through the intensely familiar and intimate hours of their days and nights…her pursuit is so unnervingly attentive that it becomes revelatory. Middle-of-the-night readers…who cannot put down Songs Without Words will surely look up at the darkest hour with the sense that they are being watched.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

Packer follows her well-received first novel, The Dive from Clausen's Pier, with a richly nuanced meditation on the place of friendship in women's lives. Liz and Sarabeth's childhood friendship deepened following Sarabeth's mother's suicide when the girls were 16; now the two women are in their 40s and living in the Bay Area. Responsible mother-of-two Liz has come to see eccentric, bohemian Sarabeth, with her tendency to enter into inappropriate relationships with men, as more like another child than as a sister or mutually supportive friend. When Liz's teenage daughter, Lauren, perpetuates a crisis, Liz doubts her parenting abilities; Sarabeth is plunged into uncomfortable memories; and the hidden fragilities of what seemed a steadfast relationship come to the fore. Packer adroitly navigates Lauren's teen despair, Sarabeth's lonely longings and Liz's feelings of guilt and inadequacy. Although Liz's husband, Brody, and other men in the book are less than compelling, Packer gets deep into the perspectives of Liz, Sarabeth and Lauren, and follows out their conflicts with an unsentimental sympathy. (Sept.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

In her second novel, Packer sticks with the themes of kinship and loss that helped The Dive from Clausen's Pierbecome a best seller. Here, full-time mom Liz enjoys life in northern California with Brody, her reliable if staid husband, and their children. Sometimes Liz must counsel and console Sarabeth, her flighty best friend, but overall things are good. Neither is prepared for the shock when Liz's teenage daughter Lauren tries to kill herself after a carefully hidden depression overwhelms her. Craving support from her childhood pal, Liz is stunned when Sarabeth stays away, numbed by recollections of her mother's suicide, and their long friendship seems doomed. The family's despair and gradual moves toward coping unfold in precise, graceful language that creates a contemporary setting with plenty of references to current fads and fashions. Individual characters, particularly most of the adults, are less vividly realized, though the author has a knack for capturing the inner lives of adolescents, making Lauren's sections memorable and poignant. Recommended for most collections of popular fiction. [See Prepub Alert, LJ5/1/07.
—Starr E. Smith

Kirkus Reviews
Expanding her canvas from The Dive from Clausen's Pier (2001, etc.), Packer explores a friendship and a family wounded by a teenager's attempted suicide. While she confined herself to the first-person narrator's point of view in her bestselling first novel, here the author persuasively enters the heads of five different people in northern California: Liz and Sarabeth, best friends since the suicide of Sarabeth's mother 30 years ago; Liz's husband, Brody, a business-development executive; their severely depressed 15-year-old, Lauren; and her carefully well-adjusted younger brother, Joe. Sarabeth is unmarried, a designer who gussies up for-sale houses and apartments with custom-made lampshades or pillows. She's the "creative" one, Liz the contented housewife who doesn't mind hand-holding her turbulent friend. But when Lauren slashes her wrists and Sarabeth doesn't call for days after finding out, Liz feels betrayed. Things are also rocky with Brody when Lauren comes home from the hospital; the different approaches the spouses take with their still-raw daughter drive them apart. At first, it's hard to sympathize with Packer's privileged, self-absorbed characters. Lauren seems to be wallowing in her distress; Sarabeth and Liz nurse their grievances instead of talking honestly about them; Brody flings himself into e-mail and business trips; Joe vanishes to soccer games and sleepovers. There isn't a lot of action to grab readers' attention. Slowly and carefully, Packer shows her characters putting their lives back together after a traumatizing blow. Lauren slowly regains her self-esteem and sense of humor; Brody and Liz reaffirm a deep, satisfying marital love; Sarabeth battles depression andmakes new friends, understanding that she can't always lean on Liz. The two old friends' moving reconciliation closes a quiet narrative whose emotions, we come to realize, run deep and true. A slight sophomore slump after a pitch-perfect debut, but commendably ambitious and ultimately rewarding. First printing of 150,000. Agent: Geri Thoma/Elaine Markson Literary Agency
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375727177
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 7/29/2008
  • Series: Vintage Contemporaries Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 966,533
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.80 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Ann Packer
Ann Packer received the Great Lakes Book Award for The Dive from Clausen's Pier, which was a national bestseller. She is also the author of Mendocino and Other Stories. She is a past recipient of a James Michener award and a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship. Her fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, Ploughshares, and other magazines, as well as in Prize Stories 1992: The O. Henry Awards. She lives in northern California with her family.

www.annpacker.com

Biography

Packer's late-blossoming career as a novelist may illustrate the adage that good things come to those who wait. She was in her twenties when she attended the prestigious Iowa Writers' Workshop, and in her early forties when her first novel was published. The Dive from Clausen's Pier, which was ten years in the writing, debuted at no. 9 on the New York Times bestseller list and was hailed by critics as "a reflective and probing first novel" (Kirkus Reviews).

The book is narrated by a young woman named Carrie, whose urge to break up with her fiancé is complicated after he is paralyzed in an accident, leaving Carrie with the choice of whether to take care of him or embark on a new life of her own. The primary theme of the novel, as Packer described it in an ABCNews.com chat, is "the interplay between the need to be true to oneself and the need and desire to be loyal to the people one loves"—and therein may lie part of the book's broad appeal, given that everyone faces some conflicts between their own needs and those of their loved ones. The Dive from Clausen's Pier was the first pick for Good Morning America's book club, "Read This," and was featured on the front page of The New York Times Book Review.

Though most readers had never heard of Packer before Clausen's Pier, she had long since embarked on what Publishers Weekly termed a "Cadillac career": she earned her bachelor's degree in English literature from Yale, then worked in the New York publishing business (writing blurbs for paperbacks) before receiving her M.F.A. at Iowa. She also spent two years in Madison, Wisconsin, on a writing fellowship; published stories in The New Yorker, Ploughshares and other magazines; and received an O. Henry Award, a James Michener award and a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship. A 1994 story collection, Mendocino and Other Stories, was well-received upon publication.

Since her first novel's publication, Packer's publicity schedule has kept her busy, but as the mother of two children, she's already adept at juggling writing with other demands. "The hard thing for me is to say no to people," she said in an interview in The Australian Women's Weekly. "Asking me to help in the classroom. Or friends saying, 'Let's have lunch.' It's hard to say, 'No, I'm not going to do that, I need to write.' But somehow I balance it all, I put it all together in a way that works. I fit in what I can. Some weeks there's no writing and some weeks are full of writing."

Good To Know

The Dive From Clausen's Pier went through nine drafts during the ten years Packer spent writing it. The biggest change came about halfway through the writing process, when she switched from a third-person narrator to first-person.

In an interview on her publisher's Web site, Packer mentioned that the story of Clausen's Pier was "loosely autobiographical," based in part on her childhood experiences after her father was paralyzed due to a stroke. Another autobiographical element: Packer, like her protagonist Carrie, enjoys sewing.

Packer grew up in California, where she currently lives with her husband, an architect, and their two children. Her brother, George Packer, is also a writer of fiction and non-fiction books.

Read More Show Less
    1. Hometown:
      San Carlos, California
    1. Date of Birth:
      1959
    2. Place of Birth:
      Stanford, California
    1. Education:
      B.A., Yale University; M.F.A., University of Iowa
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Six o’clock in the morning. It was one of Liz’s favorite times of day: everyone else asleep, Brody still motionless in the bed she’d just left, the kids upstairs, in sleep not teenagers anymore but simply larger versions of their younger, childish selves, who, she could almost believe, would wake and seek her for body comfort, as they used to. They were thirteen and fifteen, but she could still open their doors and look at them sleeping: how Joe lay on his back with half his blankets kicked to the side, his mouth slightly open; how Lauren folded her limbs in close, her head sandwiched between two pillows, a fist curled under her chin.

In the kitchen, Liz spooned coffee into the Krups and leaned in for a whiff of the dark, rich smell. She got out four plates and four juice glasses. Moving to the calendar, she did a quick pro forma check of the day, but she knew: soccer practice for Joe, and Brody home a little on the late side because of his tennis game. Lauren did nothing after school this year, and Liz had taken to planning labor-intensive dinners so she’d be in the kitchen if Lauren wanted her. Jambalaya tonight? She’d go grocery shopping after her yoga class.

Outside, the newspaper lay on the lawn, its plastic wrapper wet with dew. She bent over for it, then looked up and down the street. The houses in this neighborhood were at once ample and modest, with lovingly tended small front yards. Sixteen years ago, buying here had seemed a compromise: it wasn’t Palo Alto, but it was nice, and the schools were good, and she and Brody reassured themselves that Palo Alto would still be there when they had more money. Now they had more money, but they stayed. They were comfortable here. It was home.

She left the paper in the kitchen and tiptoed through the bedroom to the bathroom. She loved the first blast of the shower on her face; she opened her mouth and used her hands to cup water at her cheeks, her eyes. She massaged shampoo into her scalp, then turned and let the water course through her hair. When she turned back it beat at her nipples, and she twisted them, felt a tingling between her legs. It had been a while since she and Brody had made love, and she was ready. Was he? They were a little out of sync, she sometimes felt.

In the bedroom she began to dress, opening drawers as quietly as she could, though he was beginning to stir.

“Time is it?” he muttered after a short while.

She turned around, saw he hadn’t moved. “About six-thirty.”

He raised himself up and looked at her, then sank down and lay on his back. She skirted the bed and sat near him on the edge of the mattress. His chest was bare, and she laid her hand over his breastbone, its bloom of graying hairs.

“OK,” he said, covering her hand with his own.

“OK,” she said with a smile.

She left him and went upstairs to the kids. Lauren was likely to be awake already, and Liz hesitated, then turned the doorknob slowly. She pushed the door open but waited a moment before moving over the threshold.

Lauren was on her back, looking at the door. It seemed to Liz that she had been waiting for this moment, had even girded herself for it: pulling the covers all the way to her chin, making sure her head was in the very center of her pillow. She stared hard at Liz but didn’t speak.

“Morning, sweetie,” Liz said, but still Lauren didn’t speak, didn’t react at all. Something was going on with her these days, Liz didn’t know what. It was almost as if the last three years had never happened, and she was still twelve: sullen and aggrieved. Though Friday night she’d abruptly changed her mind about spending Saturday in Berkeley with some friends, and Liz knew that at twelve Lauren never would have canceled anything involving even one other girl.

“Almost time to get up,” Liz said now.

“I know,” Lauren said with a sneer. “I’m not stupid.”

Liz pulled the door to and headed for Joe’s room. Lauren’s tone seemed to have lodged inside her: she felt it harden like a fast-drying coat of shellac on her lungs. Outside Joe’s room she took a deep, slow breath to break it up.

Long ago she’d replaced Joe’s curtains with blackout shades, and it was very dark in his room, the only light coming from the hallway behind her. She crossed to his bed and sat down. Already he’d turned off the alarm clock that he set, every night, for six-thirty. He was crafty, never just hitting the snooze button but actually sliding the setting to off.

“Joe,” she said. His head was turned to the wall, and she put a hand on his shoulder and shook it a little. “Joe.”

He burrowed deeper, and as always she felt torn: she wanted to adjust the covers over him, to encourage his sleep, make his bed the nicest place possible; and she wanted, needed, to get him up.

She shook his shoulder again. “Joe.”

“I’m awake.”

“Right.”

“I am. I swear.”

She patted his shoulder and left the room, knowing she’d come again in five minutes. She tried hard to make them independent, but there was a cost to her, and some things she couldn’t give up. Yet.

In the kitchen she began breakfast. She sliced a pear into a bowl of blackberries, unwrapped a loaf of challah, and cut it into thick slices. She put jam and honey on the table, then went back to Joe.

“It’s time,” she said to his sleeping body.

He hunkered farther, bringing the covers over his face.

“It’s time,” she said again, shaking his shoulder. “It’s almost seven.”

“Urf,” he moaned, but the position of his body changed, and after a while she could tell he was awake. “No,” he said.

“I’m afraid so.” She tweaked his foot and then left the room and headed toward Lauren’s nearly closed door, but before she could speak Lauren’s voice came at her, brusque and preemptive: “Mom, I’m up!”

Liz retreated. Down in the kitchen again, she put challah slices in the toaster and poured herself a second cup of coffee. She sometimes regretted the second cup at yoga, but she missed it too much when she skipped it.

In a few minutes Lauren came into the kitchen. She moved slowly, and her unbrushed hair fell in clumps past her shoulders, collected in the hood of her oversize gray sweatshirt. “Sweetie,” Liz said without meaning to, and Lauren gave her a sour look.

“What?”

“Nothing. Hi.” Liz put a second round of bread in the toaster and watched in her peripheral vision as Lauren moved around the table and pulled out her chair. When the toaster popped, Liz buttered the new slices, put them all on a plate, and took them to the table. “Here we go.”

Lauren reached for a piece of toast and took a bite, and Liz thought, You’re welcome. Then she wished she could unthink it. She hated how pissy she felt—it wasn’t the kind of mother she wanted to be.

Brody came in, dressed in a white shirt and tie, and she remembered that he’d mentioned a meeting out of the office today. He passed close by her on his way to the coffeemaker, and she caught a whiff of his soap smell, watched as he found a mug and pulled the coffeepot out of its base. His nice broad back seemed broader in the white shirt. He turned and faced her for his first sip, and she thought about how much it had always pleased her to see him in a dress shirt and tie. That’s because he reminds you of your father, Sarabeth had remarked about this, in her usual perspicacious way.

Now Joe arrived, reaching for a slice of challah before he’d even sat down, then consuming it in two bites and chasing it with a large gulp of juice. He’d shot up over the summer, and he was gangly now, with enormous wrists. She took her seat and watched as he helped himself to fruit, took more toast, pulled his juice glass a little closer: gathered what he needed to stock himself for the day.

He looked up at her as he stabbed a pear slice. “Are you driving us to practice?”

“I’m not sure yet,” she said. “I’ll drop your gear at Trent’s if I’m not. Are you packed?”

“How is our friend Trent?” Brody said as he came over and sat down. “That was quite a play he made on Saturday. That kid can kick.” He unfolded his napkin and then unfolded it again and tucked a corner into his collar. He turned to Lauren and said, “Did you know that the entire purpose of the necktie used to be to protect the shirt? Now we have to protect the protector!”

“That’s the fullback’s job in soccer,” Joe said, and Brody winked at Liz as he turned back to Joe.

“You’re quick this morning.”

“No, I’m not,” Joe said, but he smiled with pleasure, a wash of color high on each cheek.

Liz looked at Lauren. She was spaced out, her expression vacant as she played with one of the many thick silver rings she wore. Let’s try again, Liz thought, but she wasn’t sure how.

“You could get one of those plastic ties,” Joe said. “Like for a Halloween costume.”

“Maybe I will,” Brody said. “That could solve all kinds of problems.” He smiled at Liz again and reached for the challah, and she saw there was only one piece left.

She said, “Oops, sorry, I’ll get some more of that.”

He shrugged. “I can.”

“No, no, I will.” She slid the last slice onto his plate and went back to the toaster, thinking for a moment that this wasn’t the best model for Lauren—or Joe, for that matter. The woman leaping to her feet. But she wanted to do it—she liked doing it. Was she supposed to pretend she didn’t?

It was funny: most of the women she knew complained about their husbands’ uselessness at domestic tasks, but of course it was they who’d allowed them to be useless. Liz did it, too—complained, too. There was this sisterhood out there, a sisterhood of eye rolling and head shaking and sighing over the helplessness of husbands. Liz had always enjoyed it, the standing around at the kids’ schools or soccer games saying, My husband cannot hang up a towel, or I’m going out and leaving my kids with my husband tonight—before dinner, and everyone laughing. With Lauren and Joe older, Liz had less of that: the talking, the standing around. It was a little lonely with the kids older.

Very soon the rush began: Brody looking for his BlackBerry; Lauren disappearing into the bathroom; Joe all over the house at once, searching for his backpack, his math homework, his lunch—oh, wait, he had hot lunch, and he’d just remembered, he needed ten bucks for a student body card—no, today, today was the last day, it had to be today; and then they were all gone.

In the sudden silence Liz sat down again, licking her fingertip and pressing it to the toast crumbs on her plate. She found herself thinking of the brief conversation she’d had with Sarabeth Saturday morning, when she’d called to tell her Lauren wouldn’t be in Berkeley after all. Lauren and her friends had planned to stop in on Sarabeth if they had time, and Liz hadn’t wanted Sarabeth wondering all day if they would come. “Oh, too bad,” Sarabeth said in response to the news. “I was going to make chocolate meringues.” And Liz had gotten a clear picture of the picture Sarabeth must have had, of Lauren and her friends filling her funky little house with their teenage giggles and intermittent high seriousness. Liz was sorry they’d canceled. She’d call Sarabeth after yoga, see if she could come for dinner sometime soon.

Chocolate meringues. That was the treat Sarabeth used to make for Lauren and Joe when they were little, when every few months Liz would load them into the car for a pilgrimage across the bay. In anticipation of these visits, Sarabeth would tape giant pieces of butcher paper to her living room floor, and once the meringues were consumed she’d launch the kids on some labor-intensive drawing project—a giant forest, a city of towers—so that for a while at least Liz could sit on her couch and they could talk. What a respite those conversations were: hearing about Sarabeth’s romantic adventures, or learning more about a new project she had going—anything to interrupt the day-in, day-out sameness of life with small children. I’ll trade you, Sarabeth used to say. You couldn’t stand it for more than a day. Which was true, of course.

The high school was on the north edge of town, across the street from a little shopping center with a Starbucks, a Subway, and a Jamba Juice. Kids weren’t supposed to bring food over from the center, but everyone did, smuggling their Starbucks or Jamba Juice cups into their morning classes. The teachers didn’t care, but it was a rule, and if the vice-principal saw you, you got busted. It was called getting cupped. Lauren had seen a freshman guy get cupped before school today, and it was so obvious he’d done it on purpose. It was probably the highlight of his life, proving what a tough ass he was by getting detention in high school.

Lauren was in chemistry, hiding inside her conscientious student look. Notebook open, pen in hand, thoughtful expression. It was ridiculously easy. If she felt Mr. Greenway’s eyes on her, she bit her lip as if she were struggling to understand something, then made a mark in her notebook. From far away she would look like she was taking notes, but in fact she was adding details to a picture of a tree she’d drawn yesterday. A Japanese maple. She was terrible at the leaves. In fact, she sucked at drawing. Everyone used to say how good she was, but they were wrong.

Across the aisle and one desk forward, Amanda twisted her copper-red hair around her finger. Her jeans were a little floody, and Lauren saw that she was wearing socks with smiley faces on them, as if she were still in middle school. Amanda could be so weird that way, not caring about stuff.

They had four classes together this fall. “That’s great,” Lauren’s mom had said when Lauren told her, although it wasn’t, exactly. It was Amanda, and it was great in exact proportion to how it was not so great: it gave Lauren someone to hang out with, and it made it impossible for her to hang out with anyone else.

“Great.” With Lauren’s mom everything was either “great” or “too bad.” What would you like me to say? Lauren imagined her mom asking, and she turned away, then realized that she’d actually turned away, actually moved her head, here in chemistry. She looked at Mr. Greenway, worried that he’d noticed, but he was writing on the board, oblivious. The periodic table hung to his left. Lauren had not meant to look at it, but she’d caught a glimpse—those rows of little boxes, the meaningless letters inside them—and her stomach flipped. It was the middle of October, and she could no longer maintain the pretense that she was going to start getting it soon. Every time Mr. Greenway talked about the periodic table, she thought, OK, listen, but something happened to his voice, like he just loved the periodic table, and she couldn’t listen. She spaced out. Sometimes she thought of the quilt on her parents’ bed, how when she was little she’d lie there and play a game of mentally connecting like fabric with like fabric, a game to explain why the quilt was exactly as it was, as if it had to be. Or she’d think about lunch: where she and Amanda might sit, and whether or not she’d see what’s-his-butt.

Who, speaking of: class was almost over. Her heart pounded as she watched the classroom clock click from six of to five of. Just five minutes until the after-chemistry pass. She ran her fingers through her hair, then lowered her head and examined her teeth with her tongue. She cupped her hand under her mouth and exhaled, but her breath just smelled like the classroom, not that she ever got close enough for her breath to matter. Some idiotic magazine article had said you should pinch your cheeks to bring color to them, but color wasn’t a problem—her face was always on fire when she looked at him. At the moment she was also sweating between her boobs, which she absolutely hated.

“Lab tomorrow,” Mr. Greenway was saying. “Don’t forget your flameproof suits.” He smiled his pathetic aren’t-I-funny smile just as the bell rang, and Amanda turned and rolled her eyes at Lauren.

“Don’t forget your dick brain,” she said, meaning Mr. Greenway’s, but Lauren was in no mood. She’d missed the before-school locker pass, so she didn’t even know what he was wearing today. She preferred this pass to take place out beyond the science complex, under the open sky rather than on the busy covered walkways, where she always felt invisible. Plus she could see him for longer out there, see him leaving his English class if she got out there early enough. Walking that swinging walk. His arms, his legs. She imagined him naked walking like that, and her face got even hotter, if that was possible. Herself naked near him—she wanted to barf.

“Laur-en,” Amanda said, and, nearly at the door, Lauren looked back. Amanda for some reason was still at her desk, still putting her stuff in her backpack. Fuck—now the pass would take place on the science walkways, no question. She might even be too late altogether.

“Do you mind waiting?” Amanda whined, and Lauren waited, and by the time she got outside it was too late: he was past her, heading for his physics class, wearing his blue T-shirt with the faded red ladder on the back, from his painting job two summers ago. On the front, she knew, just over his heart, it said: JEFF.

From the Hardcover edition.

Read More Show Less

Reading Group Guide

1. Ann Packer has been praised for the lifelike quality of her fiction. Do you feel that the friendship depicted here seems especially true to life? Do you find yourself choosing sides with either Liz or Sarabeth?

2. Why does Lauren attempt to kill herself? What are the immediate and the more suppressed causes? How does Lauren herself explain it?

3. Liz tells Brody that she feels completely guilty for Lauren's suicide attempt. “I know, it sounds crazy,” she says, “but the point is: if it was your fault, then you weren't powerless—you weren't at the mercy of stuff just happening.” To which Brody replies: “You're always going to be at the mercy of stuff just happening, no matter what” [p. 335]. What different ways of looking at life do these two positions represent? To what extent are they “at the mercy of stuff just happening”?

4. Thinking back over her relationship with her daughter, Liz imagines herself “bowing to Lauren, acknowledging Lauren. Had she somehow failed to do that? She couldn't think of anything more important for a mother to do” [p. 143]. Why would nothing be more important than this kind of acknowledgment of one's child? Why does Liz choose the word “bowing”?

5. After Lauren has returned from the hospital, Liz admits to Lauren that she and Sarabeth are “having some problems.” After that, Lauren occasionally asks her mother about her relationship with Sarabeth. Do you think Lauren is intentionally pressuring Liz to talk to her? Do you think it's Lauren's place to pressure her mother about Sarabeth?

6. Liz and Sarabeth have a long history together. Do you think that, without Lauren's attempted suicide, Liz and Sarabeth would have ended up in the same place anyway?

7. Why do you think Lauren is drawn to Sarabeth? Do you think it has more to do with Sarabeth's experience with depression and suicide, or with Sarabeth's knowledge of art and her less-conventional life? Or something else entirely?

8. Why doesn't Sarabeth call Liz immediately when she learns of Lauren's suicide attempt? Is her reaction selfish or merely self-protective?

9. Why does Liz tell Sarabeth, “I'm not your mother” [p. 257]? Is she justified in saying this? How does it affect Sarabeth, immediately and ultimately?

10. Brody describes Sarabeth as “five feet of chaos” [p. 278]. In what ways is this statement true of Sarabeth?

11. What is the effect of tragedy—the suicide of Sarabeth's mother and Lauren's attempted suicide—occurring in such seemingly ordinary, and in Lauren's case loving, families?

12. Near the end of the novel, after Joe has won at poker, he thinks: “The cards didn't really matter. What mattered was how you played. What mattered was your face” [p. 359]. In what ways might this apply to the lives of the characters in the novel?

13. How are Liz and Brody able to repair their marriage? Why does Lauren's attempted suicide create such anger and distance between them?

14. What do you think about the hostility between Sarabeth and Brody? Do you think they would have gotten along better if not for their relationships with Liz?

15. How are Liz and Sarabeth able to restore their friendship? Why is the gift of the bench so important?

16. What is the turning point in Lauren's recovery? What is it that really begins to restore her optimism and interest in life?

17. Songs Without Words, though much of it is concerned with suffering, depression, and suicide, ends happily, with the restoration of Liz and Sarabeth's friendship and Lauren choosing to embrace rather than hide from life. Why does this ending feel right? How does Packer keep the novel from achieving too easy a closure?

18. What does Songs Without Words reveal about both the strength and fragility of human relationships?

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 2.5
( 26 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(0)

4 Star

(5)

3 Star

(10)

2 Star

(6)

1 Star

(5)

Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation

Reminder:

  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

 
Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 26 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 13, 2008

    quiet book

    I thought this was a quiet book about relationships between mothers and daughters and friendship. The writing was good. I felt drawn in and concerned for the characters. It wasn't an exciting book. I believe the characters grew though, quietly. I know this book didn't get great reviews and the comments on this website reflect that. I thought the book was thoughful and reflective on those relationships. I enjoyed it. I look forward to more books from Ann Packer.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 16, 2007

    Boring, I'm snoring...

    I really like Ann Packer as an author and greatly enjoyed her two previous works. However, I was disappointed with this book. I agree with the other reviewer, it was dull and flat. I think it was well written, but it didn't seem like the author was writing about much. There just wasn't any vigor and I could have predicted how it would end. I would not recommend this book to others. I kind of feel bad saying that as I was so looking forward to something new from Ann Packer. Please read her other two books and hope for another great one in the future as I know she has it in her.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 26, 2008

    Songs Without Words

    Read this book if you are interested in yet another detailed depiction of the lives of quiet desperation playing out in American suburbs. Ann Packer was hailed as a gifted chronicler of the interior lives of women after her debut novel, The Dive From Clausen's Pier '2002'. In it, a young woman wrestles with feelings of guilt after her fiance, for whom she has lost all passion after an 8 years and 6 months courtship, becomes a quadriplegic when he breaks his neck in a diving accident. Her second novel, Songs Without Words, has a somewhat less arresting premise, though it still involves life-changing bodily harm. Liz and Sarabeth have been best friends ever since the latter's mother committed suicide while they were in high school. Now in their 40s, they find their relationship shaken to its core after Liz's 15-year-old daughter, Lauren, attempts suicide. In a nutshell, Sarabeth feels awkward and lost as she is not used to providing emotional support. Meanwhile, Liz is hurt, then fed up that Sarabeth still seems to want to be mollycoddled when Liz obviously has greater worries on her mind. Packer takes pains to establish her character's personalities, the better for us to understand their psychological motivations. The problem is that these personalities are not very interesting. Liz is a happy housewife devoted to her children and yoga, while her husband Brody plugs away at a technology firm and plays tennis to relieve stress. Lauren is a shy, artistic type shunned by the cool girls in school and infatuated with a conventionally good-looking senior, while her younger brother Joe is a strong, silent soccer player. Lastly, Sarabeth is the wild child, making lampshades and falling for married men when she isn't sitting in her bohemian shack stressing out about her life's lack of direction. Packer drags us through the minutiae of her characters' lives in an attempt to expose the cracks running just below the surface. Her prose, though elegant, also lacks any turns of phrase or imagery that might move the reader, settling for the obvious cliches. Perhaps in an attempt to channel teenage angst, she chooses to convey Lauren's deep despair with sentences plucked from a high school girl's poetry notebook: 'Her stupid blue dress from last year brushed her shoulder. Life was endless, endless.' In her haste to explore the complexities of the human psyche, the writer seems to have forgotten that the individual human is what makes a psyche compelling, or not. If this book were a song without words, it would be one overwrought hackneyed and ultimately forgettable tune.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 14, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Disappointment

    I LOVED Packer's first book, The Dive from Clausen's Pier, and was so excited to read this. Wow, was I disappointed. Just very boring with not much going on . The only redeeming quality was that I could relate to some of the friendship stuff and was interested in hearing about stuggles between lifelong friends. But that was not even worth the read, really. I wouldn't reccomend it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 4, 2008

    Just Because You Write One Great Novel It Doesn't Mean You Can Write Another One!

    When I reached 'Part 3' of the book, I thought, finally something will come together. I now have about 50 pages left and am beginning to doubt that anything of much interest will happen. I was away on a trip with not another book to read so I just kept reading. I will finish the book but with not much anticipatation. The characters are shallow and never fully develop. Very depressing and dysfunctional characters in much need of seeking professional help. I felt that the premise of the book could have been a good one if developed properly. But, the plot is thin and stagnant. Am glad that I did not buy this book but was able to take it out from the library. If you feel you still want to read 'Songs Without Words' I suggest you go the same path.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 10, 2007

    Anticipation turns into disappointment

    This read was a major disappointment. I had high expectations after Ann Packer's 'The Dive From Clausen's Pier.' 'Songs Without Words' was flat, boring, and entirely predictable.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 13, 2007

    Songs WO Words, Book WO a Plot

    I got half way through and could not bring myself to invest anymore time.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 15, 2007

    Big disappointment

    Having loved the dive from clausen's pier, i was really excited to read something new by ann packer. i couldn't have been more disappointed. after an initially interesting start, the story fell totally flat and i had to force myself to get through the book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 18, 2011

    HUGE waste of time

    i wish i had it in me to stop reading a book once i've started. this book was mind-numbingly horrible. i'm actually angry about the time i wasted reading this book. it seemed just worthless babble to me, i still can't figure out the reason the brother even existed. i could go on forever. save yourself valuable time and stay as far away as possible from this garbage.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 23, 2009

    This novel has many real life topics and events, and is an excellent read for those who enjoy true life stories.

    Songs Without Words is a touching story about family and the trying times many families go through. The two main characters Liz, an artsy mother and loving wife, and Sarabeth, a single but proud woman, have been friends since thier middle school carrers. Now grown and approaching middle age, they both are going through somewhat of a midlife crisis. Sarabeth has just gotten out of a relationship with a man she was deeply in love with. The only problem is that he was a married man. Now Liz on the other hand seemed like her life was flowing smoothly. Her marriage was good and she had two children in high school. Her son Joe played varsity lacrosse and was doing pretty good in school. Her daughter Lauaren was a different story all together. She was struggling not only in school but also in other aspects of her life. Lauren was having trouble coping with the difficulties in her life and ended up resorting to drastic measures. If you are interseted in knowing more about finding out what happens to Lauren, her mom, and Sarabeth I suggest puting Songs Without Words on your list of to read books.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted July 25, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Couldn't Put it Down

    Songs Without Words was a touching novel about the strength of childhood friendship that creates somewhat of a family bond. I loved the characters in this book, Packer did a wonderful job giving insight into their lives and minds and at the end of the book you're left wishing to know more about these characters and how the rest of their lives turn out.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 11, 2009

    little substance

    the book was enjoyable enough to read, but really had little substance. I felt like I did not know the characters. I wished we had more to read about. My favorite was the daughter with the issues.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 5, 2008

    Trying Too Hard...

    The Dive From Clausen's Pier is one of my favorite books, and I have anxiously awaited Ann Packer's next novel. I was thrilled to happen upon this book on accident at the library. Unfortunately, it was a major disappointment. When I read the book jacket, I really couldn't figure out what the story line would be. After reading the book, I figured out why... there really isn't much of a story. Besides a couple key events, the majority of the book is each character wrestling with their emotions, with excruciating and repetitive detail. The book is painful to read, and not in a good way. The characters are very one dimensional and none of them are fleshed out in a way that makes you care. Take Lauren. We never understand why she experiences such depression and self-loathing. And Brody, the husband, who is filled with anger in the book from start to finish, and never really experiences any growth. I was so frustrated reading it, but I kept at it just to see if something major would happen or if the characters would change in some way. I love reading about how humans react to tragedies in life and some of my favorite books are by Elizabeth Berg, who really has a knack for these subjects, but is able to say it in far fewer words and still maintain a healthy and engagiing storyline. Songs Without Words was just trying too hard to give deep insight into how we relate to each other when bad things happen. I needed more 'show' through a strong storyline and less 'tell' with each character's inner observations. Two stars are a generous rating for this book, but I do have faith that Ann Packer will wow us again with something as amazing as Clausen's Pier.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 15, 2008

    I Couldn't Agree More

    I loved The Dive From Clausen's Pier and couldn't wait to read this. I forced myself through it. The characters just didn't ring true and I couldn't feel much sympathy for any of them, except for the daughter. Don't waste your precious time or money.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 13, 2007

    Like Watching Grass Grow. . .

    I was really excited to read this book, because the premise, two lifelong friends who suffer a 'falling out,' sounded extremely promising. Also, I really enjoyed 'The Dive from Clausen's Pier.' I was sorry to find this book deathly dull. Nothing happens in the lives of these women that are worthy of a busy 'and choosy' reader's attention or interest.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 10, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted November 13, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 26, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 26, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted February 18, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 26 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)