A modern gothic about a marriage and road trip gone hauntingly awry by acclaimed writer Hannah Pittard. ("If she's not on your radar yet, she should be." —
A page-turning modern gothic about a marriage and road trip gone hauntingly awry
A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice
“Pittard deserves the attention of anyone in search of today’s best fiction.” — Washington Post
“Revelatory.” — The New Yorker
“[Listen to Me] gripped me completely and even gave me nightmares, which is high praise in my book.” — Chicago Tribune
Mark and Maggie’s annual drive east to visit family has gotten off to a rocky start. By the time they’re on the road, it’s late, a storm is brewing, and they are no longer speaking to each other. Adding to the stress, Maggie—recently mugged at gunpoint—is lately not herself, and Mark is at a loss about what to make of the stranger he calls his wife. When the couple is forced to stop for the night at a remote inn completely without power, Maggie’s paranoia reaches an all-time and terrifying high. But as Mark finds himself threatened in a dark parking lot, it’s Maggie who takes control.
“Pittard proves herself a master of ordinary suspense.” — New York Times
“Listen to Me elides so many genres that it’s Houdini-like, bursting through constraints. It moves between its two characters’ inner lives as effortlessly as an Olympic swimmer strokes through water.” — Ann Beattie, Paris Review blog
“A psychologically complex, addictive, and quick-moving read. I didn’t want it to end!” — M.O. Walsh, author of New York Times best-selling novel My Sunshine Away
Listen to me and I will speak: but first swear, by word
and hand, that you will keep me safe with all your heart.
—Homer, The Iliad
n. a motor car.
ORIGIN late 19th cent.: abbreviation of AUTOMOBILE.
one’s own: autobiography
by one’s self: automatic
by itself: automaton
ORIGIN from Greek: autos ‘self.’
They were on the road later than they intended. They’d wanted to make Indianapolis by noon, but they overslept. Mark offered to walk the dog while Maggie packed up the car. He’d wanted her to pack up the car the night before, but Maggie said it was nuts to leave a car full of luggage on a side street in Chicago.
“Every time,” she’d said. “We go through this every time.”
“You worry too much,” he said.
“Maybe you don’t worry enough.”
It was dark by the time they’d had this argument and late, which meant Maggie had already won.
And so, in the morning, it was Mark — as promised — who took the dog out so that Maggie could arrange the car. But downstairs, in the private entrance to their apartment — private entrance! It had taken forever, but three years ago they’d finally found the perfect apartment with its own perfectly private entrance, which they didn’t have to share with a single other person, a fact that, to this day, continued to bring Maggie sharp, if fleeting, pleasure — was the week’s recycling, just sitting there at the bottom of the stairs. Mark swore he’d taken it out.
Clearly, he hadn’t.
She put down the luggage and was about to pick up the bin to do the job herself when she saw it: a pink-gold length of foil peeking up from beneath a newspaper. She pushed the paper aside.
Her heart sank — exactly what she thought: the foil was attached to an empty bottle of champagne. Her bottle of champagne. Hers and Mark’s, from their last anniversary. She’d been saving it. For what, she didn’t know. But she’d liked looking at it every now and then where she’d stashed it above the refrigerator next to the cookbooks. True, it had been a while since she’d taken any real note of the thing. Even so. It made her sad to think he’d thrown it out without ceremony, which was an overly sentimental concern — did an empty bottle truly merit ceremony? — but what was she going to do? Suddenly become a different person?
According to the Enneagram, which she’d taken on the recommendation of her therapist — former therapist, Maggie had stopped seeing her three weeks ago — everyone emerged from childhood with a basic personality type. Maggie’s was Loyalist. Think: committed, hard-working, reliable. Also according to the Enneagram (she’d done some recent reading on her own), people didn’t change from their basic type. Instead, throughout their lives, they vacillate between nine different levels within their type, the healthiest being a One.
Lately, Maggie was about an Eight. Think: paranoia, hysteria, irrational behavior. Her goal, by the end of the summer, was to be back at her usual Three or Four. There wasn’t an overnight solution.
She picked up the bottle. Even empty, its weight was significant. Mark had splurged because they could. Because life was good and on what else were they going to spend their money? “There are no luggage racks on hearses,” they sometimes said to one another. “Spend it if you’ve got it.” Mostly they were joking — they never spent beyond their means. But it was only just the two of them. They had no children’s educations to consider, and so why not enjoy an extravagance every once in a while?
She tore off a sliver of the pink foil — the tiniest of keepsakes! — then slipped it into her back pocket. Perhaps Mark was testing her, measuring her steadiness by relieving her of an ultimately trivial trinket. Yet he’d been so patient these last nine months, so generous with his affection — kissing her shoulder before clearing the table, squeezing her hand before falling asleep. Sure, they’d quarreled about the luggage and maybe the last three weeks had been more strained than usual, but quarrels, as Maggie and her former therapist had discussed, were the latticework of relationships. They were the branches — interlacing the pattern, strengthening the structure — that sheltered them and kept them together.
She put the bottle back in the bin, right at the very top. She didn’t need to say a thing about it. She would pass his test with flying colors.
Mark and Gerome were crossing the street when she emerged from the front door.
“What are you doing?” said Mark.
“The recycling,” she said. She held up the bin. “You didn’t take it out.”
She watched his eyes; they didn’t acknowledge the bottle.
“Gerome didn’t do anything,” Mark said.
Maggie looked down at Gerome, who was looking up at her and wagging his tail. He sneezed.
“What do you mean?” she said.
“He didn’t go.”
“He always goes.”
Gerome was still wagging his tail.
“You’re driving him crazy with the recycling.” Mark held out his hands to take it.
“You don’t do it right,” she said.
“If I chuck it all at once or put it in piece by piece doesn’t matter. It all goes to the same place, whether it’s broken or not.”
Maggie shrugged. He was right. She knew he was right. She wasn’t an idiot, but there was something so gloomy about Mark carelessly hurling it all away. Just as there was something equally gloomy about watching the homeless man who walked their alley take off his gloves one finger at a time before searching the recycling for refundable bottles. It was silly to think their bottles and cans contributed anything significant to the man’s well-being, but she couldn’t help it. The thought of him fingering broken bits of glass made her heart ache. Of course, she hadn’t actually seen anyone going through the trash since autumn, as she hadn’t taken out the recycling since her mugging,...
Praise for Listen to Me
“Hannah Pittard’s got the goods. There’s no doubt about it. Listen to Me has a way of making you uneasy from the get go. Maybe it’s the approaching storm, the dark night, all the terrible things that might be hiding around the corner. Or maybe it’s just how much the main characters, with all of their faults and scars and frustrated desires, remind us of ourselves. Regardless, this is a psychologically complex, addictive, and quick moving read. I didn’t want it to end!” —M. O. Walsh, author of New York Times best-selling novel My Sunshine Away
“Listen to Me is the sort of novel you want to read in one sitting: suspenseful, unsettling, and beautifully written. Hannah Pittard goes into one couple’s dark night of the soul with surprising charm and wit, but also with a fierce and intelligent honesty.” —Dean Bakopoulos, author ofSummerlong
“In Listen to Me, Hannah Pittard takes the reader on a young married couple’s chilling road trip. The dangers and mishaps of the physical journey provide enormous suspense but still greater are all the fears each houses within. Pittard is a gifted writer with an excellent eye for the intricate details that shape a relationship.” —Jill McCorkle, author ofLife After Life
“An unflinching look at the tightrope walk of marriage, Hannah Pittard’s Listen to Me holds a mirror up to our own twisted and hopeful idiosyncrasies. Pittard is an expert guide to the dark places of the soul, revealing how the smallest shift of balance in our fragile psyches can set off a chain of mini-detonations. But like the rain that accompanies this journey across America’s heartland, Pittard’s close empathy is a clarifying wash. This is the best kind of road trip novel: one where the tension drowns out the radio.”—Katy Simpson Smith, author of The Story of Land and Sea
“Hannah Pittard’s Listen to Me is a dazzling new novel with a perfectly drawn forty-something couple on a positively Hitchcockian misadventure. As the suspense grows, their world turns darker and more menacing, threatened by violent weather and bizarre people, like the cowboy who, out of nowhere, remarks on Maggie’s appearance—or does he? By then you know you’re in for the duration, a ride into the heart of darkness, West Virginia style, where, after a night in hell and a heartbreakingly high price, they find what they’re looking for—a way out, a second chance.” —Frederick Barthelme, author of There Must Be Some Mistake and Waveland
“The Millennials are coming of age, and they’re getting married. In the shadows of meticulously planned domestic bliss, far from the pages of social media, young couples are discovering how little they know the ones they love. The story of Maggie and Mark, their fears and their misconceptions, is told with propulsive clarity, elegance, and wit. Listen to Me captures a cultural moment with stunning prescience, and Hannah Pittard’s prose reads like a memory in waiting.” —Michael Pitre, author ofFives and Twenty-Fives
“Hannah Pittard’s Listen to Me is a strange and wonderful book about the mysteries of coupledom and the long surreal highways of America. It’s written in a lean and elegant prose and I read these pages in one long and enthralled sitting.”—Darcey Steinke, author ofSuicide Blonde andSister Golden Hai
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