Book Review: Can You Hear Me?

CAN YOU HEAR ME? | Elena Varvello
06.05.2018 | Quercus USA
Rating: 3/5 stars

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In 1978 the Northern Italian city of Ponte is deteriorating. Once a busier area, the local factory has closed down, leaving many residents scrambling to find new jobs or down and out on their luck. Elia Furenti’s father, Ettore, is one of those who lost his job. The loss of his job impacts not only his family and their wellbeing, but also his mental state. Ettore is constantly in a volatile mood and has recently started not sleeping. Elia is growing scared of his father’s moods and cannot understand why his mother continues to stand by him.

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He could freeze in a second – she never was able to do the same – and become cold and sarcastic; he’s stare at us as if we were wrong somehow, his lips curled in a sneer; then everything would go back to normal and I’d hear them muttering, I’d hear my father’s laugh.

The murder of a local boy rocks the town of Ponte to its core and soon Elia is questioning his father’s whereabouts at that time. Unable to take his concerns to his mother, Elia looks for friendship in a local boy and his mother, Anna. Former Ponte resident, Anna quickly becomes more than just a motherly figure to sixteen year old Elia and soon their relationship pulls him towards adulthood. Now that a girl from town has gone missing, Elia’s suspicions are even higher against his father. Can he balance the life he has at home and his relationship with Anna or will his world spiral out of control just like the town around him?

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On the edge of the pool – he told my mother – he’d sometimes start screaming into the silence, to prove he wasn’t afraid, and his cries suddenly moved the stars and the wind, the leaves and the water and the creatures, the white, tired face of the mood. In those moments, he was God.

Elena Varvello’s CAN YOU HEAR ME? is the coming of age story for Elia Furenti in the summer of 1978. This novel is an intriguing piece of literary fiction with an underlying mystery that fuels the actions Elia will take during the course of the summer. Varvello writes in a manner that truly brings an atmospheric quality to the book and transports the reader straight in to Elia’s rundown hometown of Ponte. You can feel the destruction that the closing of the local factory has caused in this town, not only through the deterioration of Ettore, but also the deterioration of the town and the resident’s quality of living. While I enjoyed the weaving of the chapters, with switches between the abduction of the girl and Elia’s summer unfolding, I was left wanting more from the mystery. I wanted inside of Ettore’s head more, which perhaps is a tall order to request when the story is being told with more of a focus on Elia. I think that this book would have been a quicker and higher rated read for me had I really understood what happened in Ettore’s mind to set him off and more time spent focused on the abduction of the girl and murder of the local boy. For those looking to pick this one up, I would caution that this is a slower read and absolutely more of a literary fiction genre book than a mystery or thriller.

A special thank you to Quercus USA for sending me a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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