Tuesday, May 23, 2023

"The Whispers" by Ashley Audrain

I am not sure what possessed me to request an advance reader copy (ARC) of "The Whispers" by Ashley Audrain from NetGalley when an email offer popped into my inbox. I have, but have not read, her first novel, "The Push," which made a huge splash when it was published a year or two ago (and the author is Canadian!).  I do like a good thriller now & then, but this one promised (in the words of one reviewer) "A beautifully written hymn to the pain, love and fury of motherhood."  Hmmm... 

I decided I'd try to keep an open mind. 

Nevertheless, there was a LOT in this book that hit just a little too uncomfortably close to home. 

As mentioned in a previous post, this was my first experience with NetGalley and ARCs, and after a lot of Googling and an email conversation with someone from the help desk, I was finally able to figure out how to download it to my Kobo e-reader! (as well as to the NetGalley app and to Adobe Digital Editions reader on my laptop).  It's in PDF format -- so regardless of device, it's not an especially great reading experience. The type is small and, on my e-reader and cellphone, enlarging it/zooming in makes the page awkward to manoeuvre. I wound up reading most of the novel via Adobe Digital Editions on my laptop, where I could magnify the type to a more readable size -- albeit laptops are not ideal for reading books on...!  

I was also working against a deadline -- something I didn't realize when I first requested the book, and which is not made entirely clear up front:  the book came with an "archive" date of June 13th. I wasn't sure if I'd be able to read it on any/all of my devices after that point, which is why I moved it up in my TBR pile, even though there were other books I was hoping to get to/needed to prioritize first. 

The story focuses on four very different women, neighbours on the same rapidly gentrifying street, their relationships to motherhood, and to each other -- all of them with their own particular flaws and  carefully guarded secrets. There's affluent professional couple Whitney and Jacob and their three children. There's uber-stay-at-home mom of one, Blair, who is obsessed (creepily so, at times) with Whitney and her life, so different from her own -- and obsessed with the suspicion that her husband Aiden is having an affair.  

There's a childless couple: kid-magnet Ben and Rebecca, who is a trauma physician in a hospital emergency room. Needless to say, she's the character I identified with the most -- even as I cringed over the sometimes stereotypical way she was portrayed. (Although undoubtedly some moms reading this book will cringe over Blair & Whitney in much the same way...!)  Audrain must have personal experience with infertility and pregnancy loss (or is very close to someone who has), because she hits every note here. (Graphic descriptions are included.) 

I cringed reading some of the passages involving Rebecca. For example, this one:  

From across the yard, Blair watches as Ben and Rebecca find subtle ways to touch while they listen to Whitney orate, like they still find in each other every last thing they need. They are childless, childfree, and so they have not yet been irrevocably changed. not like the rest of them. They speak to each other in fully composed sentences with civilized inflection.  They probably still fuck once a day and enjoy it. Fall asleep in the same bed with their limbs tucked into each other's crevices. Without a pillow wedged between then to separate her side of the bed from his, to imagine the other isn't there.

(I have to admit I bristled when I read "they have not yet been irrevocably changed" -- I wanted to throw the book across the room -- except this was my laptop, lol. So I didn't.) (I kept turning the pages.) 

A few pages later, in a different time and place, Whitney demands to know of Rebecca, "Is this why you don't have children?"  

And Rebecca thinks: "Why doesn't she have children?  Because she can't keep her own alive."  

And, in Chapter 26 (back at the party), as they talk about their neighbour Mara, Blair thinks: 

...of course they have empathy for Mara, even though they don't sit and chat with her on the porch like Rebecca does. She and Whitney are the mothers, Blair thought. Rebecca can't possibly understand like they can. 

Finally, there's elderly Mara, a longtime resident of the street, who knows and understands more than most people think -- and who has been keeping a few secrets of her own.

The plot shifts back & forth in time.  It begins with a backyard birthday party, where Whitney loses her temper in a confrontation with her 10-year-old son, Xavier -- and not for the first time. Months later, the boy is in the hospital, fighting for his life.  Little by little, as the tension builds, and there's one revelation after another, we learn the truth of what happened... 

This is a very readable book -- but also very disturbing -- nasty in parts. Lots of secrets and lies.  There are triggers galore, depending on your own personal situation and tolerance level -- including (but not limited to) infertility, pregnancy loss, children in peril, child loss, abuse, jealousy, sex, infidelity, betrayal, death, mothers vs non-mothers,. Consider yourselves forewarned! 

I had a hard time figuring out how to rate this one. I settled on 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 on Goodreads.  I had problems with the plot and disliked many (most?) of the very flawed characters. There were still a few plot points left ambiguously hanging at the end. 

But it sure kept me turning the pages.  

Publication date: June 6th.  

Thank you to NetGalley (and the publisher) for my free copy in exchange for a review. Once I got the technical kinks worked out and was able to get into the book, I enjoyed the experience, even if I have some reservations about this particular book. I will likely request other books in the future -- but only if/when I know I want to (and will!) read this book ASAP, keeping the looming archive date in mind. 

This was Book #20 read to date in 2023 (and Book #3 finished in May), bringing me to 44% of my 2023 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 45 books. I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 3 books ahead of schedule. :)  You can find reviews of all my books read to date in 2023 tagged as "2023 books."   


  1. This is on my TBR, so I was curious how it would read. I liked her first book. It was creepy. And also about women and children.

    1. I'm sure some people will love it but some may find it highly triggering. As I said, I had some reservations -- but it sure kept me turning the pages...! ;)

  2. Oh! This missed my radar... I read (and enjoyed) The Push, and this sounds interesting. I love the image of you going to throw the book and then not throwing the laptop after all. :) Thanks for the trigger warnings. I do enjoy when the stereotypes are universal, moms and non-moms.