Synopses & Reviews
The halcyon days of Los Angeles in the '50s are the seductive setting for this mesmerizing first novel. After her mothers death, four-year-old Jorie grows up with her two slightly older brothers and mostly absent physician father. As narrated with sardonic wit by an adult Jorie, the brothers become increasingly wild, while young Jorie becomes the central force holding the unorthodox household together. Although she treasures the little family time they share-walks in the golden Hollywood hills and dining with Errol Flynn-she gradually discovers that her father has a secret life with very threatening entanglements. As her father self-destructs, the strange-but-stable world she knows begins to unravel, and she enters into taboo sexual relationships that further undermine the family. An intense, vivid novel, Things Unspoken brings humor and insight to the tale of an unforgettable family. Anitra Sheen is an extraordinary new talent.
Reviews from: BOOKLIST
SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
by Ellie Barta-Moran
Jorie, a woman looking back on her unconventional childhood, sees mainly family fun and dysfunctions. Like an unblemished piece of rotten fruit, seemingly perfect on the outside but corroding on the inside, the family appears to be happy and carefree, but the widowed father immersed himself in his work, women, and organized crime. Jorie and her brothers grew up independently, three children who lived by the tough maxims of never showing fear, sadness, or love. Their father's promise to "never interfere" created burgeoning adults who never really had a childhood. Jorie's early maturity caused her to seek love in other places besides her family, in situations that she had not been taught were inappropriate or illegal. The gradual disintegration of a family is never pleasant to witness, but the strength of Jorie's character is what makes this novel ultimately readable.
When Jorie's mother dies, she leaves her three young children and doctor husband to fend for themselves. Their emotional survival is the subject of this lovely, subtle debut novel set in Los Angeles and narrated by the youngest child and only girl, Jorie. Her older brother copes by drinking, smoking, and skipping school; her middle brother bides his time until he can leave home; and Jorie tries to act the way she thinks girls are supposed to act, endearingly if ineffectively. The siblings exist ineffectively. The siblings exist in a sort of limbo, coming and going as they please, never knowing too much about each other, until their father has a heart attack. There isn't a trace of pop psychology in these pages; Jorie and her brothers may be dented characters but they remain whole ones, and as such they are remarkably touching.
Jorie, the adolescent narrator of Anitra Sheen's debut novel, "Things Unspoken," is such a person. The publisher has signaled that Jorie's story was in great part lived by Sheen, but this is not the kind of semi-fictional memoir about growing up that asks us to share the author's self pity or anger.
Instead, "Things Unspoken" is a meditation on the power and pitfalls the inevitability of filial love, even in a home where, as Jorie reflects, "each day was a blind alley."
Sheen's complicated father-in-absentia might easily have made monsters of his children; instead, we have watched them grow aware of their shared "groundwater of things unspoken," an experience that ultimately proves nothing.
Anitra Sheen's impressive first effort is a perfectly pitched novel about a resourceful girl growing up in a house full of men.
"As my father said, no woman could lay claim to us. We were free." These are the words of Jorie, the young resilient narrator of this bittersweet coming-of-age story set in 1950's Los Angeles. Jorie's mother has recently died from polio and now she and her twin brothers face an uncertain future with a detached father who leaves them largely unsupervised, "with no woman in our house of set schedules, to define rules." As Jorie grows, she discovers the many secrets her father harbors, then begins a clandestine life of her own. Intense and moving, Things Unspoken vividly demonstrates the enduring strength of females, even those who grew up with no woman in the house.
Jimmy didn't mention the incident, nor did I. It merely seeped into the groundwater of things unspoken. But we had learned something about each other: Not only were we growing up, but also each of us was capable of a secret life that excluded the other. Things Unspoken
Intense and Moving Chicago Tribune
A Lovely, sutble debut...Remarkably touching. Entertainment Weekly
"For young Jorie, Los Angeles in the 1950s is a quiet place of hot sun and deep green grass. But from the time she is four, it is also a place where she and her brothers are left mostly on their own, without rules or adult order. Their mother has died and their enigmatic father, a physician starting a practice, is rarely around."--BOOK JACKET. "Jorie is the central force holding this insular household together, more comfortable being at home than joining in the games and parties of other children. She feels possessive of her father, but also becomes increasingly aware that he has a secret life, part of a more threatening world that is beginning to intrude. Earrings, a scented scarf, a lipstick are signs of her father's constant philandering, and gruff nighttime voices and cigar smoke downstairs signal the arrival of gangsters who have become his friends. Then Jorie begins a secret life of her own."--BOOK JACKET.
About the Author
Anitra Sheen lives near Santa Barbara, California. This is her first novel. Read an interview with the author.