Author: Isla Morley
Publisher: Gallery Books
Release date: March 4, 2014
I am a secret no one is able to tell.
Blythe Hallowell is sixteen when she is abducted by a survivalist and locked away in an abandoned missile silo in Eudora, Kansas. At first, she focuses frantically on finding a way out, until the harrowing truth of her new existence settles in—the crushing loneliness, the terrifying madness of a captor who believes he is saving her from the end of the world, and the persistent temptation to give up. But nothing prepares Blythe for the burden of raising a child in confinement. Determined to give the boy everything she has lost, she pushes aside the truth about a world he may never see for a myth that just might give meaning to their lives below ground. Years later, their lives are ambushed by an event at once promising and devastating. As Blythe’s dream of going home hangs in the balance, she faces the ultimate choice—between survival and freedom.
Above is a riveting tale of resilience in which “stunning” (Daily Beast) new literary voice Isla Morley compels us to imagine what we would do if everything we had ever known was taken away. Like the bestselling authors of Room and The Lovely Bones before her, Morley explores the unthinkable with haunting detail and tenderly depicts our boundless capacity for hope.
After surgery to remove a lump in my thyroid, I woke up to the news that the mass was benign which was all well and good until I tried to say so and couldn’t make myself understood. My voice had gone. What quickly became apparent was that the surgeon had damaged the laryngeal nerve that innervates the vocal cords – a roundabout way of saying I’d become a mute. My doctor looked grim as he broke the news. There was a significant chance I’d never regain my voice, he reported, and if I did, it could take as long as nine months. And no, there isn’t really a cure. And just one more thing: please be very careful not to choke to death. “Take very small bites of food,” he advised, “and chew diligently.”
There are people who don't like to verbalize every thought that crosses their minds – I am not one of them. Why couldn’t it have happened to one of those silent, brooding types? My friends and acquaintances shared my dismay. They were concerned and outraged, and a few even suggested I sue the doctor. (The poor man need consoling, not a lawsuit.) They said supportive things, right before they said spectacularly unhelpful things like, “Your husband must be enjoying this” and “It’s a good thing you’re a writer and don’t have to speak much.” To compensate for my silence, people would raise their voices when talking to me, as though my hearing had gone or I’d turned into a dippy old lady. At least three offered to teach me sign language, and then there was the woman who kept lip-syncing messages to me as though it were a crime to use her own voice. But none of this was as bad as the distancing. I began to make people uncomfortable. Groups circled up without me, the telephone stopped ringing, even the emails dried up.
It amazed me, all the things someone without a voice can’t do – you can’t order at a fast-food drive-through, you can’t call the phone company to ask about the mysterious new billing charge, you can’t sing your daughter a lullaby at night, or repeat a joke. You cuss in frustration because you cannot take being misunderstood one more minute, and all that comes out is a wheezy, “phffuuh.”
Because interacting with the outside world became so difficult, I seldom left home, but I never felt more isolated than when I started thinking nobody missed me. It was this sense of being forgotten that connected me in a dramatic new way to the protagonist in my novel, Above. I’d already written about Blythe’s initial reactions to being kept captive hundreds of feet underground in an abandoned Atlas F missile silo by a crazy survivalist, about her frantic attempts at escape, but I now gained an insight into other threats – the irrational thinking that comes from crushing silence, the way imagined voices become real threats to a person’s sanity, and what it feels like to be utterly defeated by something. To have no control over getting the thing you most want – in my case, my voice, and in Blythe’s, freedom – will either leave you despairing or it will spur you on to greater things. Will, when pricked by adversity, is formidable. Thank you, muteness, for teaching me this.
It took me a long time to become accepting of my adversity, and it seemed as though the instant I did, I started to get back my voice. By the time it was fully restored, I’d gone from acceptance to gratitude—not only because I could speak again, but because I’d made my book better. In rewriting Above, I layered into the story some of my own experience of being isolated and because I understood that the silence can almost swallow a person, I was better able to depict Blythe’s struggle against it. But the story benefitted most from one crucial realization: much of a person’s identity is tied to her being heard. Blythe can scream all day long for someone to come and rescue her, and she can demand her release till she’s blue in the face. What’s going to save her is that inner voice, the one that keeps her from giving up, that insists she not be defined (and therefore defeated) by her circumstances. It is the voice that forms her will into a chisel, steady with purpose, helping her tunnel her way above.
About the author:
Isla Morley grew up in South Africa during apartheid, the child of a British father and fourth-generation South African mother. She now lives in Los Angeles with her husband (a minister) and daughter and an assortment of animals. Her debut novel, Come Sunday, was awarded the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize for Fiction in 2009 and was a finalist for the Commonwealth Prize. It has been translated into seven languages.
Connect with Isla Morley: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads
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