I hope you all enjoyed the end of December. I was so relieved when Isabelle finally speaks. While we hear only “dad,” an expletive, and a few other phrases, Isabelle suddenly comes out of her silent word after a series of events—the unexpected visit of Jimmy, the visit to Wilson’s mother’s house, and Wilson’s mother spilling the beans about Maggie’s worsening condition.
Winthrop writes: “She hadn’t meant to speak, but out the words had come, and now that she had spoken, she has no excuse not to speak again. She knows now that she can. And her parents know it, too. . . . Those words had come so easily . . . had punctured the balloon of her silence, and broken some kind of spell.”
After Isabelle speaks, it really does feel as if a spell has been broken. The Carters’ marriage and family life go back to normal. We see Ruth softly asking Wilson to come to bed—her acerbic tongue in check. Even Jimmy seems more normal, cooking dinner for the family and speaking to Isabelle like a grown-up instead of a mutually troubled person.
As I got to the very end of the book, I couldn’t help but question all my previous thoughts about Isabelle and her illness. Was she suffering from some form of OCD that made her unable to speak or was she merely playing a childish game with herself that went too far? When I was little, I used to have staring contests with my sister, and to a point, Isabelle’s silence now seems like a warped extension of that kind of challenge. With Isabelle speaking so easily now and the familial tensions gone—Ruth and Wilson are still worried Isabelle’s silence could return, but Isabelle is almost optimistic as she decides to go over and say hello to the Dunlaps¬—I wonder if Ruth and Wilson will even remember these endless months of silence years from now?
I love how Winthrop ended the novel. Instead of Isabelle’s first word being a drawn-out affair, it happens quickly, the fog lifts, and the book finishes with the reader assuming that life will go on as it once did for the Carter family. Do you think Isabelle will go mute again or will her parents catch the warning signs (though they were impossible to read in the first place!) and put her in therapy? And is it to be assumed that Isabelle will be attending school in the next week or so? Lastly, right before Isabelle speaks, Wilson and Ruth almost seem at peace with Isabelle’s silence. Devoted Ruth even talks about giving up: “I give up, she thinks later. What a wonderful, awful thing to allow herself to think.” Do you think the family would have found happiness in January, even if Isabelle hadn’t spoken?
Please let me know your thoughts on the final pages of the book and include any questions you have for our author, Elizabeth Hartley Winthrop. She will be answering some of your questions in a post next week! Thank you for joining me in my first book club.