As soon as I picked up this book, I couldn’t put it down. The writing is fresh and sharp and quietly devastating. After the narrator, a woman who makes money by scoring short films, is diagnosed with Sudden Deafness, her relationship to the world and people around her shifts. As she attempts to understand what her new circumstances mean and how to reconstruct a meaningful life for herself within these freshly drawn limits, she thinks about music and everyday existence, relationships and solitude. Every detail is deliberate; every observation is precise. And the lists in this book! The groceries bought, the phone calls made, the forums read. Immensely satisfying — a stunning read. Recommended By Kelsey F., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
A young woman reorients her relationship to the world in the wake of sudden deafness in this mesmerizing debut novel for readers of Rachel Cusk, Clarice Lispector, and Fleur Jaeggy
When the narrator of The Hearing Test, an artist in her late twenties, awakens one morning to a deep drone in her right ear, she is diagnosed with Sudden Deafness, but is offered no explanation for its cause. As the specter of total deafness looms, she keeps a record of her year — a score of estrangement and enchantment, of luck and loneliness, of the chance occurrences to which she becomes attuned — while living alone in a New York City studio apartment with her dog.
Through a series of fleeting and often humorous encounters — with neighbors, an ex-lover, doctors, strangers, family members, faraway friends, and with the lives and works of artists, filmmakers, musicians, and philosophers — making meaning becomes a form of consolation and curiosity, a form of survival.
At once a rumination on silence and a novel on seeing, The Hearing Test is a work of vitalizing intellect and playfulness which marks the arrival of a major new literary writer with a rare command of form, compression, and intent.
"A composer suffering from sudden hearing loss finds herself even more sensitive to the lives of others, observing neighbors and the absurdities of the city, always punctuated by art and literary gossip. This debut work by Eliza Callahan is an extraordinary piece of literature, to be read alongside the novels of W.G. Sebald, Rachel Cusk, and Maria Gainza." Kate Zambreno, author of Drifts
"Eerie and tender and utterly consuming, The Hearing Test has built an entirely new world from the materials of the one we know. It takes you to a restaurant called the void, Il Vuoto, and serves you its primal, beguiling sustenance: a nourishment of pauses, estrangement, and bewilderment. The voice here is wise and wry and wondering; in its fresh and faltering silences are frequencies I've never heard before. From the first paragraph, I knew I wanted to keep reading Eliza Barry Callahan forever." Leslie Jamison, author of Splinters and The Empathy Exams
"In this striking novel, 'controlled panic' gives way to a cool remove when a young artist suddenly goes deaf. Silence, for her, 'is dressed as an injury,' but it is also the point of entry into the lives of other creators, and philosophers. Elegant and startling, The Hearing Test is a contemplative gem." Amy Hempel, author of Sing to It
"[A] quietly electrifying debut . . . This is a special novel with a style reminiscent of Magda Szabó's The Door and whose commitment to making sense of everyday existence calls to mind Tom McCarthy's Remainder." Booklist, starred review
About the Author
Eliza Barry Callahan is a writer and artist from New York, New York. Shortly after receiving her BA from Columbia, where she studied visual art, art history, and poetry, she returned to the university where she received her MFA in writing (2022). Her writing has been published in frieze, The Believer, The Brooklyn Rail, and BOMB. She also writes, performs, and releases music via Los Angeles-based label, ANTI- Records with a record forthcoming in 2023.