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Songs Without Words Hardcover – September 4, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Packer follows her well-received first novel, The Dive from Clausen's Pier, with a richly nuanced meditation on the place of friendship in women's lives. Liz and Sarabeth's childhood friendship deepened following Sarabeth's mother's suicide when the girls were 16; now the two women are in their 40s and living in the Bay Area. Responsible mother-of-two Liz has come to see eccentric, bohemian Sarabeth, with her tendency to enter into inappropriate relationships with men, as more like another child than as a sister or mutually supportive friend. When Liz's teenage daughter, Lauren, perpetuates a crisis, Liz doubts her parenting abilities; Sarabeth is plunged into uncomfortable memories; and the hidden fragilities of what seemed a steadfast relationship come to the fore. Packer adroitly navigates Lauren's teen despair, Sarabeth's lonely longings and Liz's feelings of guilt and inadequacy. Although Liz's husband, Brody, and other men in the book are less than compelling, Packer gets deep into the perspectives of Liz, Sarabeth and Lauren, and follows out their conflicts with an unsentimental sympathy. (Sept.)
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From Bookmarks Magazine

Ann Packer stunned critics with her debut novel, the acclaimed Dive From Clausen's Pier (2002). Songs inevitably raised comparisons to this first novel's exploration of how crises of untold proportions test love and lead to guilt, despair, and morally ambiguous actions. Critics agreed that Packer deftly unravels the emotional intensity that accompanies the love between two adult friends and offers shrewd insight into human behavior. However, Songs didn't garner quite the same praise as Dive. A few critics cited stereotyped male characters, uneven third-person perspectives, and a predictable story line that gets bogged down in quotidian details. All reviewers, however, praised the characterization of Lauren-and her all-too-real teen anguish.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1 edition (September 4, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375412816
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375412813
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.6 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (74 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,644,735 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Ann Packer is the acclaimed author of two collections of short fiction, Swim Back to Me and Mendocino and Other Stories, and two bestselling novels, Songs Without Words and The Dive from Clausen's Pier, which received the Kate Chopin Literary Award, among many other prizes and honors. Her short fiction has appeared in The New Yorker and in the O. Henry Prize Stories anthologies, and her novels have been published around the world. Her latest book, The Children's Crusade, will be published in April 2015. She lives in San Carlos, California.

Customer Reviews

The premise and plot seemed to promise and interesting story but completely disappointed.
J. Aparicio
Like I mentioned, I am just sort of left wondering what this author was trying to say here, what was the point?
Theresa W
I wanted to finish it to see what happens but I couldn't wait for the book to end (and not in a good way!)
Jen Harmon

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By B. Case TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 19, 2008
Format: Hardcover
"Songs Without Words," by Ann Packer, is a realistic novel dealing with the interior lives of five members of an extended suburban American family during a period of prolonged psychological crisis. This contemporary Bay Area family consists of two branches. The more normal and apparently contented Palo Alto branch consists of Liz, Brody, and their two teenage children, Joe and Lauren. Across the Bay in Berkeley lives Sarabeth, the second part of this extended family. Sarabeth is Liz' virtual sister and life-long best friend. In midlife, Sarabeth is still alone and lonely--a woman with a long history of sabotaging her long-term happiness though repeated dead-end relationships with married men. Liz and Sarabeth have been inseparable since their teens, when Sarabeth's mother committed suicide and she came to live in Liz' family while her father pursued his career and a new life on the East Coast. Their sisterly bond is strong but unhealthy. It is built on a shaky foundation of one-way mental support--it is Liz who is always on the giving end, providing Sarabeth with the constant emotional support her friend requires to maintain emotional balance.

This extended family is shattered when Lauren attempts suicide. No one sees it coming, and Lauren's tragic action throws the entire family dynamic into chaos. Everyone flounders and struggles to regain emotional equilibrium. All their relationships are derailed--some far more than others. In particular, the relationship between Liz and Sarabeth implodes. Liz is no longer able to tend to Sarabeth's emotional needs, and Sarabeth is too emotionally unstable to provide Liz with the emotional support she needs during this time of crisis. We watch as all the family relationships disintegrate and then slowly rebuild.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By budababy on December 29, 2008
Format: Paperback
I agree with so many other reviewers here: this was not a very good book. The idea of the story intrigued me but the two women were uninteresting and even a little annoying. But more than the women or the plot, what bothered me the most was the poor writing. The author writes paragraphs of excessive detail that don't do anything at all for the story, don't tell me about a character, don't move the story forward, nothing. More annoying than that are sentences like this: "Esther was an elderly woman Sarabeth had sort of adopted." Huh? Who is saying this? This is like some kind of authorial intrusion to explain things to the reader, because she couldn't do it within dialogue. Also the entire first paragraph of chapter three which explains the company Brody works for - I kept wanting to shout, "Show, don't tell!" - one of the very first lessons in any creative writing class.

Perhaps this book was rushed into print. Perhaps, as someone else suggested, she needed more help from an editor. I've heard that the Claussen Pier book is good and I might borrow it from the library to find out. But this one? Naw. Not a good book.
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28 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Susan K. Schoonover VINE VOICE on November 9, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I was anxious to read SONGS WITHOUT WORDS since I greatly enjoyed Ann Packer's first novel THE DIVE FROM CLAUSEN'S PIER. "SONGS" starts well with a flashback to 1976 a time when Sarabeth and Liz, the two lead female characters, are best friends and high school students. Sarabeth is actually living with Liz's family in their Palo Alto home as her life was disrupted when her mother committed suicide and her father moved back east. We flash forward thirty years to present day Northern California and find Liz is now a typical suburban housewife with a successful husband in the high tech industry and a teenage son and daughter. Sarabeth is still single in her mid to late forties doing some free lance creative things like "staging" houses for realtors, making lampshades and we presume often living off the inheritance from her deceased parents. Sarabeth is also mourning being dumped by her latest lover who happened to be married with kids and trying to come to terms with some realities about her life. Meanwhile Liz's life is not quite as perfect as it seems as her teenage daughter Lauren is becoming increasingly depressed and will soon make a stupid choice that will disrupt her whole family as well as her mother's friendship with her oldest friend Sarabeth.

While Packer is a gifted writer and keen observer of upper middle class suburban life this book soon becomes tedious and boring. Sarabeth and Liz are well developed sympathetic characters but the pace of the book is so slow and the plot so plodding the reader soon loses interest in them. Liz's daughter Lauren and her high schoool experience are interesting but I would have liked more of a back story as to why she is so depressed. The last third of the book is so incrediably sluggish I felt like celebrating when I reached the final word.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By S. Andrews on April 11, 2010
Format: Paperback
I'm so frustrated with "Songs Without Words" that I'm writing a review before I've even finished the book (I'm a couple of chapters from the end). I was almost to the end before I realized I was frustrated, bored, and depressed by it. The story goes nowhere! And it takes a really long time to do it!

I read "The Dive from Clausen's Pier" about a year ago and liked it enough to finish it. I didn't love it, but I had forgotten just how blah I felt about it--until now. The premise of her first book was great--a very promising story--but the story lacked both action and resolution, and I lacked compassion for the main character. Actually, that pretty well sums up how I feel about "Songs Without Words." Yet, I don't exactly hate it; it's more like I feel sorry for it. I feel like the author missed the mark. The book has potential that, unfortunately, will never be realized since you don't exactly get a do-over after publication. In other words: it could have used better editing. For starters.

One of the main problems with the book, if not the biggest problem, is that it lacks character development. We get background information on events that have shaped some characters' personalities and lives (like Sarabeth's mom's suicide, and how that affects both Sarabeth and Liz) but there are gaping holes regarding other characters' problems--like why does Liz's daughter, Lauren, hate herself so much? I kept expecting there to be a defining moment or some event that explains WHY Lauren's so unhappy. But no. She just hates herself (typical teenage angst?), and then she attempts suicide. As a person who is very interested in why and how things happen, these types of plot holes are driving me crazy.
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