When a colleague of mine mentioned that she had raced through Ashley Audrain’s latest book The Whispers, I asked if I could borrow it to read myself. I rarely read books that aren’t my own, simply because I have a shelf bursting with books I already committed to reviewing from my publishing partners, but I couldn’t help myself with this one, as I have clear memories of enjoying Audrain’s debut novel, The Push. Like my friend, I devoured this suspense novel within a few days, simultaneously excited about and dreading what I was going to read next about these doomed characters.

Plot Summary

Harlow Street is a neighborhood in transition. The majority of its inhabitants are young professional couples and families, making unnecessarily ostentatious renovations to their homes, while only a few original homes are left. Mara has lived there for decades, originally moving there with her husband for better opportunities, overjoyed at their modest and stable home. But Mara is an outlier, patiently watching the comings and goings of her neighbors over the fence. These quiet lives are thrown into chaos when a young boy Xavier falls from his third story window onto the pavement in the middle of the night. While lying in a coma in the hospital, his mother, beautiful workaholic Whitney sits vigil at his bedside along her her handsome art dealer husband Jacob. Across the street, stay-at-home mother Blair hides the trauma from her daughter Chloe, who herself holds a secret about Xavier’s last day at school. Blair’s also distracted by suspicions her husband Aidan is cheating on her with Whitney. Rebecca is an ER doctor who also lives on Harlow Street, sitting on the periphery of Xavier’s treatment, dealing with her depression over her many miscarriages and overwhelming desire to become a mother herself. Everyone is quietly wondering how Xavier fell from his window in the middle of the night, and is it related to the fact that everyone can hear Whitney screaming at him when she thinks no one is around?

My Thoughts

There is no shortage of suspicious behaviour in this novel. Everyone seems to have a dark little secret they hide from the world, and because the perspectives swivel between all the wives and Mara, readers are treated to the hidden truths that the women of Harlow Street harbour. But it’s not only women that are behaving badly, there are plenty of men with secrets of their own, and we only learn of them through the admissions of women.

Like Audrain’s last book, motherhood is the theme that remains at the forefront. Blair, Whitney, Mara and Rebecca all have complicated relationships with the idea of motherhood and what it requires of women. Rebecca’s desperation to become a mother is beautifully juxtaposed with the suffocation of motherhood that Whitney feels, which are both valid and common feelings that it feels like society has only recently acknowledged. The divide between mothers who work and those who stay at home is one that’s lightly touched upon as well. I’m so thankful that (most) women now have the choice to work or stay home, but this decision is fraught with so much judgement, especially in the fact that it creates an artificial divide in female friendships that would not have existed until they became mothers. Both Blair and Whitney experience guilt for their different choices, and because Mara is of an older generation, she offers a completely different opinion of these women and their parenting styles. Rebecca’s desires and choices seem vastly different from both Whitney and Blair’s at the outset of the book, but their stories become so entangled by the end that their motivations all blend together, forming a messy web that leaves no room for any of Mara’s judgements.

Despite the abundance of neighborhood drama, I’m happy to say the book never strayed into unrealistic territory. I’ve heard of stranger things happening between groups of friends, so although there’s never a dull moment on Harlow Street, it doesn’t as though Audrain was taking the plot points too far. Will you like any of these characters? Probably not, as many of them are behaving badly, and part of the fun is reading to see if they get what’s coming to them.

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