“The Silence in the Sound” is an engaging tale in which complicated love — for an alcoholic father, testy patient, enigmatic lover, and our Island — interweaves to create a compelling narrative.
Summer resident Dianne C. Braley skillfully creates rich characters that pull us into her story. We experience it through Georgette, a nurse who goes to the Vineyard to start her life over. She is lured by memories of an unusual and profound weekend that she spent there as a teenager where she connected with her recovering alcoholic father for the first time. In the flashbacks to Georgette’s youth, Braley writes searingly, capturing the nature of their difficult relationship: “I glanced at him suspiciously, waiting for the rug to be pulled from under me, like always. I never wanted to get too comfortable in his sobriety. That would mean I trusted him, the alcoholic, the ones you shouldn’t trust … That’s how you get the real hurt — the hurt that you feel foolish for feeling because it was stupid to hope; because you got comfortable and lost your edge.”
As we discover, even as an adult, Georgette can’t escape the lasting damage stemming from being the daughter of an alcoholic and growing up in a dysfunctional home. Living on the Vineyard full-time, she becomes a private nurse to the dying prizewinning novelist, Mr. S., based on Braley’s real-life experience of caring for William Styron at the end of his life.
Braley shares about the impact of her actual experience: “Working for Mr. Styron and being in the Styron home was an honor and a privilege. Caring for someone at the end of their life is beautiful and heartbreaking, while also being the most important job one could have, and not for one moment did I not know that. Being in their home where art flourished and all things of cultural importance were what mattered most inspired me to do what I had always wanted to do since I was a kid, write. Had I not had the experience of being around one of the most extraordinary literary talents that has ever existed, along with his passionate poet wife, family, and friends of influential creators, I’m not sure this book and my writing journey would exist. Mr. Styron once told me to write about what I know, and that is precisely what I did.”
In Braley’s novel, Georgette comes to care deeply for the often difficult Mr. S. Her writing makes his melancholy air and particularly his intense depression tangible, in part by having Georgette gain insight into him as she reads his fictional novel, representing Styron’s own famous “Sophie’s Choice,” about a tragically unhappy Holocaust survivor.
Braley hints from the start that Georgette’s relationship with her love interest, Dock — an inscrutable local contractor — may not be as idyllic as it first appears. The intensity is unnerving, with hints of its own type of addiction. Georgette says, “I’d met no one like him … He was confident and gentle. He was rough and everything in between, and I wanted more. My heart was opened, unlocking somehow, and I liked it. It felt like a drug, and I was high and free … I was hopeless and helpless. I didn’t have control, and I was going wherever he wanted to take me.”
As the book progresses, we watch Georgette’s life unravel. Braley says that the title, “The Silence in the Sound,” refers in part to “how everything in George’s life fell ‘silent in the sound’ as she waded her way in, desperate and alone in disbelief of what’s become of her.” We follow her through the hard choices she must make to journey forward.
Speaking about the main message, Braley shares, “I want readers to walk away seeing the devastating effects of growing up in addiction. I grew up in an alcoholic home. I’ve seen it ravage everything around me. I thought I knew better; when I was an adult, I thought it would never touch me. I was tough, but I ran right to it; I fell in love with it, and couldn’t escape what it did until I sought help. I want readers to understand their early life doesn’t define them. You have choices beyond where you come from, and only you can define yourself. You can turn your traumas into something more. We all have our own stories; they aren’t always pretty, but they’re ours.”
Asked why she wrote the book, Braley replies, “I felt fulfillment in helping people [as a nurse], but there was always something missing, although I was never sure what. While having the honor of caring for Mr. Styron at the end of his life, I saw a family existing for art, and I breathed in its existence and felt alive and inspired.” She continues, “I spent many days and nights for years with a talented, complicated, deep, and melancholic man at the end of his days, reading his books across from him. His friendship and fascination with the darkness of the world, humanity, and himself led me to explore my own, and not be afraid to search for my meaning.”
About this moving novel, Braley shares, “Rose and her daughter Alexandra Styron have wished me the best. Rose has a copy, and is cheering me on.” After reading it, we can see why.
Dianne Braley will speak at the West Tisbury library on August 24 at 4:30 pm, and will talk about the book at Edgartown Books on August 26 from 2 to 4 pm.
“The Silence in the Sound,” by Dianne C. Braley, $19.95. Available on August 23. Part of the proceeds from this book will be going to the RFK Community Alliance Organization and their children of alcoholics and substance abuse division, to help kids and families affected by addiction in Massachusetts.