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Mark and Maggie are sitting in their car, which is idling on the side of an empty road in rural West Virginia, miles from civilization. A vicious hail storm has knocked out the power and made travel nearly impossible. It is completely dark. No streetlights,...

Hannah Pittard's 'Listen to Me' sends married couple into dangerous storm, relationship dread

Mark and Maggie are sitting in their car, which is idling on the side of an empty road in rural West Virginia, miles from civilization. A vicious hail storm has knocked out the power and made travel nearly impossible. It is completely dark. No streetlights,...

Hannah Pittard's 'Listen to Me' sends married couple into dangerous storm, relationship dread

Mark and Maggie are sitting in their car, which is idling on the side of an empty road in rural West Virginia, miles from civilization. A vicious hail storm has knocked out the power and made travel nearly impossible. It is completely dark. No streetlights, no passing headlights, nothing.

Once the dog was repositioned and calmed, Mark turned to Maggie. He let out a deep breath and then switched on the overhead light. "What did the sign say exactly? Close your eyes. Tell me exactly."

Maggie switched the light off. Mark turned it on again. Maggie switched it off and -- against her better judgment -- let slip, "But they'll see."

They'll see? Who will see? Mark, Maggie and their beloved dog Gerome are in the middle of nowhere, in the midst of an epic tempest.

This is not a scene from an M. Night Shyamalan horror movie. It comes about halfway through Hannah Pittard's short novel, "Listen to Me." And while Pittard's narrative has many of the elements of spine-tingling genre fiction, the author really isn't interested in what goes bump in the night.

Except when the bumping takes place inside her characters' heads.

The story follows Mark and Maggie as they make a difficult drive from Chicago to Virginia. The dangers they encounter come, for the most part, not from the weather or any backwoods villains but from memories of earlier days in their marriage.

This can make for chilling reading. Maggie, a veterinarian, is recovering from a mugging; Mark, a college professor, is struggling with a wandering eye. They still love each other, still lust after each other, but daily life has a way of tamping all that down, making it turn over in the stomach like a bad meal.

Pittard, author of 2014's "Reunion," tends to be repetitive: she returns time and again to the same few points about middle-age ennui, relationship pitfalls and the deadening nature of digital communication, until the reader begins to wonder if she's going for a call-and-response effect. But her prose is spare and propulsive, her insights telling.

"Listen to Me" reminds us that even good marriages are hard work. And that the world can be a scary place, because we secretly want it to be, even need it to be. Pittard's story is meaningful and satisfying -- even if you never find out who will see you on an empty road in the middle of the night.

-- Douglas Perry

LISTEN TO ME

By Hannah Pittard

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 191 pages

$25

Our editors found this article on this site using Google and regenerated it for our readers.

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