Published digitally by Pocket Star on October 27, 2014
"The Whispers" is a short story (not nearly long enough to be called a novella), the first of a trio that are intended to promote Lisa Unger's new novel. An excerpt from that novel comes with the story. This review is of the story, not the excerpt.
Eloise is a stay-at-home mom; her husband teaches algebra at Hollows High; one of her daughters is in a goth phase. Eloise survives a family tragedy and is still in a grieving period when a girl, or an apparition, appears in her living room and asks for help. When Eloise sees a picture of the missing child on television, she knows she must help her ... but how? The rest of the story follows Eloise as she exercises what appears to be a newfound psychic talent for "seeing" missing or endangered children and for hearing the whispers from beyond that guide her.
In a novel, Lisa Unger has room to overcome her excesses. She does not do that here. Unger crowds the story with trite observations ("The river of life kept flowing; and one must swim or drown" and "Life is not fair. We just do our best. We have each other"). Clichéd expressions can be buried in a novel but they stand out in a short story, particularly when they come three-in-a-row.
Too much of Unger's prose in "The Whispers" is overwrought ("She would never be whole again"), including a hallucinated/dreamed/imagined "saying goodbye" scene that is meant to be gut-wrenching but, like a couple of other scenes, comes across as sappy. This kind of writing plays well with many readers and if you are one of those, you'll be happy to have your heart strings tugged. But Unger doesn't just tug; she yanks. I prefer a style of writing that is more subtle and original than Unger displays in this story.
The story makes good points about the need to release anger, to forgive others their faults even when those faults cause harm, to avoid sitting in judgment of people whose lives we have not lived. Unfortunately, the plot is insubstantial and covers ground that has been well plowed by bad television shows. I wouldn't necessarily call this a bad story but I would call it forgettable.