cover image The Language of Silence

The Language of Silence

Peggy Webb. S&S/Gallery, $16 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-1-4516-8481-0

You wouldn’t think a story about spousal abuse could be magical, but that’s what the prolific Webb (The Sweetest Hallelujah) has accomplished with this page-turning novel about Ellen Blair, a battered wife in the early 1970s Deep South who takes to the road with a traveling circus. The peripatetic lifestyle is practically in Ellen’s DNA: her grandmother Lola joined the very same troupe during the Depression, performing as a tiger tamer before dying of TB. The book paints Ellen’s marriage in grim detail, showing how easily her outwardly charming, successful husband turns into a monster behind closed doors. Webb’s disturbing portrait of abuse is balanced by the wit and whimsy supplied by Ellen’s eccentric great-aunt, Ruth Gibson, who uses her power of second sight to help Ellen escape a desperate situation. The growing friendship between Ellen and the circus people, who hire her to teach their children, restores an optimistic note to the novel. She becomes particularly close to Nicky, a little boy left literally speechless after witnessing his mother’s death during an act. In the end, Webb demonstrates that both Nicky and Ellen see themselves as more than just survivors of tragedy. [em]Agent: Stephanie Kip Rostan, Levine Greenberg Literary Agency. (Aug.) [/em]