Green Bay? This Packer Story Takes Place Right Here

It isn’t often that ones comes across a book centered around characters in this very community in northern California. However, in “Songs Without Words,” a novel written by Writers Week’s main author, Ann Packer, the story unfolds right in Palo Alto.

Packer is also the author of the nationwide bestseller “The Dive From Clausen’s Pier” and has become known for her ability to realistically and vividly depict the lives of ordinary women. She succeeds once again in “Songs Without Words” as she explores in intimate detail themes of friendship, responsibility and the relationship between parent and child.

“Songs Without Words” is similar in theme to Packer’s first novel, telling the story of Liz and Sarabeth, childhood neighbors whose friendship is tested when Sarabeth’s mother commits suicide. Years later, when Liz is married and has children, and Sarabeth is still haunted by the death as she pursues her career, all relationships are put to the test again after Liz’s teenage daughter Lauren tries to commit suicide herself.

The most interesting conflict to read as it develops is naturally between the two protagonists, Liz and Sarabeth. Sarabeth does not know how to give comfort in the face of adversity after taking so much from Liz, and Liz is totally unprepared for the catastrophe that hits her family. Lauren’s suicide attempt also draws reactions from more minor characters like her father that are very well-written.

It is immediately obvious that Packer has a gift for describing the minute, humdrum details of the everyday life. She follows the characters everywhere, from the bedroom to the kitchen to the bathroom to the grocery store, sometimes getting so close that one almost feels the need to pull away a tad. (There a few somewhat raunchy scenes.) Despite the undeniable fact that the pace can be gratingly slow, the placid lifestyle of the suburbia is a nice contrast to the problems that do appear once the suicide attempt occurs. In fact, the characters’ problems and their continual inability to deal with them border on becoming frustrating to the reader, although the second half of novel does pick up.

“Songs Without Words” also has the local aspect—seeing familiar things pop up like Palo Alto High School, Cowper Street and a :little shopping center across the street with a Starbucks, a Subway and a Jamba Juice” makes the reading experience a little more unique. Overall, Packer has written and created an intriguing world of characters and complex relationships in “Songs Without Words” and it would be well-worth going to her presentation during Writers Week (Wednesday, February 13, at 7:30 p.m.).