cover image The Silent History

The Silent History

Eli Horowitz, Matthew Derby, and Kevin Moffett. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $16 trade paper (528p) ISBN 978-0-374-53447-9

Form follows, explores, and transforms function in this novel, originally written as an iPhone/iPad app and now being published, and holding its own, on the printed page. Short narratives—field reports, log entries, anecdotal memoirs—offer a jigsaw-puzzle oral history starting in the present (2011) and advancing into the future (2044), documenting the evolution of a disaster, as an increasing number of children fail to develop language, not due to physical or mental impairment, but due to indifference. Whether this indifference is the result of drugs, the environment, mindless innovation, or biological mutation (no one can be sure), for “silents,” language has no meaning. A teacher describes futile attempts at classroom management; a politician recounts using the situation to career advantage; a doctor details speech therapy without verbal communication; a New Age groupie confesses to feeling envious. Because they are marginalized, ostracized, and demonized, some silents withdraw into clandestine communities, rather than submit to technology that imposes speech, if not self-expression. Storytelling, both on screen and in print, relies on character, setting, plot, theme, and, of course, language. Three authors work together here to master these elements, presenting an ingenious variety of perspectives and locations that create a richly textured vision of a dystopian future. If the ending is a letdown after so much inventiveness, readers are left with plenty to think about, including the role of language in family and society, personal development and interpersonal relations, and communication and community. (June)