What Remains Unsaid


Fiction - Literary
212 Pages
Reviewed on 11/24/2017
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Lorraine Cobcroft for Readers' Favorite

A character-driven work of literary fiction, What Remains Unsaid by Audrey Kalman is a story about relationships… a revelation of what makes us who we are and how who we are impacts on the significant others in our lives. It opens with a dark and shocking scene, with Sean Masterton holding his mother, Ginny, hostage in her own kitchen. It then takes us on a journey that unveils Ginny’s darkest secrets, her relationships, her fears, and her feelings for her son. It takes us back to her childhood and youth, and into her marital home. It takes us into the homes and into the minds of the friends who influenced who she became. By exploring Ginny’s life and emotions, and the lives and thoughts of those who influenced the woman she became, it exposes how Sean became who he is.

Audrey Kalman says she didn’t set out to write a book about mental illness, but What Remains Unsaid touches on mental illness: the causes and the effects. An engrossing read, it is deeply thought-provoking. The characters are flawed, making them relatable. In the way of good novels, it drives readers to think about their own character and relationships, and to reflect deeply on what drives character development and human behavior. Kalman’s descriptions are original and vivid. She places us in scenes. She elicits strong emotional responses. She brings characters to life, compelling us to celebrate their wins, to feel their pains, and to forgive their foibles. I almost stopped reading after the first few pages, but by page 50, I was so deeply engrossed I struggled to put the book aside, even briefly. The ending was unsurprising in what took place, but unique and innovative in the way the conclusion to Sean’s story was exposed. Audrey Kalman’s is a name I shall add to my 'authors to look for' list. This story is not for the faint-hearted, but I love her work.

Viga Boland

If you’re into psychological thrillers, the opening chapter of What Remains Unsaid by Audrey Kalman will immediately grab you. But a word of caution here: this book is a work of literary fiction, meaning it’s character, not plot driven, and it’s definitely not a thriller. With that established, rest assured that What Remains Unsaid will take you right inside people’s heads, far deeper than any ordinary work of fiction will, and it might just leave you reeling in this story that looks at mental illness, which, as the author tells us at the end of the book, was experienced by one in five persons in the US during 2014.

Ginny, one of several narrators in this book, suddenly finds herself tied to a kitchen chair and facing a gun held by her adult son, Sean Masterson. Sean demands that for once she listen to him, insinuating she hasn’t done so throughout his life. From here on, readers are invited inside Ginny’s head as she slips into her distant past and gives us some insight into what has led to this emotion-filled scene with Sean. As Ginny remembers and narrates, she introduces us to those who had the greatest influence and impact on who she is now: her childhood and long-time friend, Nora; her first love, Keith; her wealthy ex-husband and Sean’s father, Howard, now deceased; and Eva, Sean’s wife. Nora, Eva and Keith each take their turn as narrator so we get the story of Ginny and Sean from several sides. And when all have finished sharing their stories, though Sean and the readers know more, there is still the pervading sense that What Remains Unsaid will never be known. For who can see everything inside each of us?

Readers come away wondering about their own lives, their own partners, their parents, their associates. As Ginny reminds us several times, there is the “inside” Ginny and the “outside” Ginny. This book explores, on the deepest level, the many masks we wear throughout our lives. We come away uncomfortable as we recognize the parallels in our own lives built on unfulfilled dreams and hopes, and the countless number of mistakes we all make. We exit Ginny and Sean’s story acutely aware of one thing that is never taught at school: how to raise happy children and, despite all the information available today, how little we understand and know those we most love. What Remains Unsaid isn’t an easy read. It’s complicated with its tense switching and flashbacks. And since most of the story takes place inside several narrators’ heads, meaning there’s very little dialogue, the book requires concentration. But What Remains Unsaid is masterfully written by Audrey Kalman and definitely worthy of your concentration. Will you see the ending coming before it does? Challenge yourself.

Marta Tandori

Some actions have dire consequences and nowhere is this more evident than in Audrey Kalman’s wrenching work of literary fiction, What Remains Unsaid. Sean Masterson takes matters into his own hands when he decides he’s had enough of his mother’s indifference and forces her to listen to him – at gunpoint in her suburban California kitchen, no less, with her tuna salad slowly spoiling on the kitchen counter. Piece by painful piece, each character’s back story is revealed – Ginny’s isolation and unhappiness as a child growing up with parents who paid little attention to her and certainly didn’t understand her, to teen years filled with secrecy, longings and secret crushes, to an adulthood filled with unhappiness and lack of fulfillment. From the outset, Sean is a demanding and unhappy baby who slowly grows into a surly and difficult child, prone to outbursts and aggressive behavior that even the most determined child psychologists can’t seem to crack. Like an unhealthy relationship, Ginny and Sean’s unhappiness begins to fester and spread like a cancer, neither one of them finding or giving love to each other until both reach this seemingly insurmountable abyss of no return…

One’s journey to adulthood is more often than not shaped by one’s childhood and the memories it holds. When those memories are good ones, they create a solid foundation for an adulthood replete with emotional maturity and intellectual stability. However, when those childhood memories are bad, they inevitably leave ugly scars in the form of emotional baggage, depression, and withdrawal. Kalman’s prose is stark and unapologetic as she systematically lays bare the souls of her protagonists. The characters of Ginny and Sean, while for the most part are sympathetic, are not always likable and that’s perfectly okay. If they were always likable, then they wouldn’t be the compelling characters that they are, nor would Kalman’s tale carry the same clout. What Remains Unsaid eventually says plenty – if one is willing to listen.