by Perrin Ireland
When I picked up Perrin Ireland’s Chatter (Algonquin, 2007), I wasn’t familiar with her writing. I hadn’t read her first novel, Ana Imagined (although I imagine I will, now) and consequently had no idea what to expect. I certainly didn’t expect to find a novel that I would end up not only enjoying enormously, but also one that I found extraordinarily affecting. Ireland is a smart and gifted writer, and it shows on every page of this story about a marriage in trouble. The title is both ironic and, at the same time, in a certain sense, totally straightforward. The plot is revealed almost entirely via dialogue, and, just like in real life, what people really mean to say often appears between the lines of what they actually manage to articulate. What narrative there is appears in short, sound–bite–like sentences. It may take a few pages to get used to Ireland’s style, but trust me, just hang in there, because you’re in for a treat. Eighteen years into their marriage (the second for both) Sarah learns that Michael, in addition to being the father of Lisa, who lived with the couple when she was a teenager, has another grown daughter, whom he’s never met, from a part of his past that he’s resolutely kept secret from her. Now, not only does he want to meet Camila, but he also wants to reconnect with her mother, his first love, who lives in Chile, where Michael was stationed as a Peace Corps volunteer. In response to this stunning and disturbing news, and Michael’s refusal to discuss it, Sarah determines to find out the facts of Michael’s past. But the details of the plot aren’t the main point here. Instead, what matters is the dialogue, and the way the characters respond to one another and the situations they find themselves in. These include not only a deteriorating marriage and possible infidelity, but also Sarah’s best friend, Rachel, who is dying of cancer and Sarah and Michael’s beloved dog, Random (reading about him is such a treat for both dog and novel lovers), and, of course, the reality of a post 9/11 world in which people find themselves desperate for comfort and shelter from emotional and physical traumas.