Tori Warner Shepard’s Now Silence: A Novel of World War II takes place in the midst of WWII around the time Pearl Harbor is bombed, many U.S. military personnel are held in POW camps, and Japanese Americans are corralled in internment camps across the western United States, particularly in New Mexico.
“In the airless box of a room of the Kirtland BOQ in yet another officer’s guest quarters, Phyllis found herself disgusted with both Roddy and Albuquerque. She wasn’t even hungry for breakfast. Her goal was to win Anissa over by introducing herself as a worthy ally. She counted on its being quick and easy, considering that Anissa and her vulnerable cult appeared to be able to swallow almost anything. It should take no time at all.” (Page 130)
Readers are first introduced to a self-centered, superficial Phyllis soon after the death of her fiance, Russell. Russell’s soon-to-be ex-wife, Anissa, lives out west and had refused to sign the divorce papers, and Phyllis has hated her for many years and obsessed about this woman and the role she played in Russell’s life.
“Her lust was contagious. Not overly surprised by this, he sank into her kisses, eating and being eaten by her, weakened and unable to pull out.” (Page 191)
After a great deal of build up regarding these characters’ animosity toward one another, the confrontation nearly midway in the book is not as explosive as readers may expect. Phyllis is a complicated character, just like Anissa, and readers may find it difficult to wrap their arms around these characters’ actions, though Anissa is a bit easier to get a handle on than Phyllis, who makes her way across America from Florida to New Mexico by riding a bicycle to make herself seem worthy of awe, only to break down and “sleep” her way across the nation.
“Over the next few days the wind drifted in random streams across the bay as Nagasaki burned. The fires pushed by the coils of moving updrafts swallowed the breathable air. By the fourth day, cinders fell like snow and no more fighter planes cluttered the sky. They simply stopped coming.
A hollow silence.” (Page 211)
The pacing of this novel is slow and awkward in places, but the best sections of this novel are in the POW camps of Japan. Readers will be introduced to Melo and Senio, who rely on each other for survival, with the help of Doc Matson. The brutality and uncertainty of their lives is mirrored in the lives of Anissa’s neighbor Nicasia and her soon-to-be daughter-in-law LaBelle, who wait endlessly for word of their loved ones.
“Several thousand emaciated men continued to form a line outside and Melo looked up to see if they had moved forward even an inch. Hart to tell, by this time the men all looked alike–skin burnt, shaved heads, scrawny, bony, skinny, emaciated, lice-riddled stooped bodies with torn rags for clothes.” (Page 33)
In just a little over 300 pages, Shepard weaves in a number of storylines and illustrates the environment present at home and abroad. Readers should be cautioned that there are some graphic scenes and sexual content in Now Silence.
Overall, readers will enjoy what they learn about the Pacific front and the characters are well-developed, even if Phyllis is a bit tough to take most of the time. While readers may find there is too much detail about Phyllis’s earlier exploits and some of the sections about the WWII events are told rather than shown, Now Silence sheds light on the Pacific Front of World War II from Americans on both sides of the ocean.
This is my 4th book for the War Through the Generations: WWII Reading Challenge.