August 31, 2010
A House Full of Whispers
Memoir of Abuse Offers Understanding, Hope, and a Gripping Read
Sharon Wallace’s “A House Full of Whispers” is the first in a trilogy about her life, beginning as an abused child and ultimately as a survivor of abuse. This first book begins with a little girl, Sharon, and her two older brothers, Paul and Mark, living with a foster family that abuses them. Eventually, they are returned to an orphanage—the local “Home for Waifs and Strays” in Caerleon, Wales.
Sharon and her brothers are well-cared for in the orphanage, although they do have their disappointments—Sharon is especially unhappy that she gets a broken doll for Christmas. But at least the orphanage is a safe place for them, safer than their foster home. As Sharon gets older, she questions what became of her parents; she only has vague memories. Her older brother tells her they are dead, but she is unsure when she picks up on contradictions in his story.
Then one day, a woman appears at the orphanage who says she is their mother. Sharon and her brothers are excited, relieved, and hesitant about accepting her, but eventually, they go to live with her, her new husband, whom Sharon calls Stepfather in her thoughts but Dad to his face, and their half-sister, June. Sharon asks her mother what became of her father but does not receive satisfactory answers for a long time—however, because her father does not provide any child support, her mother immediately makes Sharon and her brothers take on a paper route to provide income to help with their room and board.
At first, things seem to work out for the siblings in their new home, but over time, it becomes apparent that both Mother and Stepfather are abusive and unhappy adults. At certain points in the book, I have to admit I found their words and behaviors almost comical because they were so over the top in their lack of logic, meanness, and violent behavior, which is like an addiction in their inability to stop themselves once they begin beating the children. Mother is especially colorful in her language, surprising her children by her swearing at first, but later, just plain ridiculous. For example, at one point she tells Sharon:
You are a nothing! You have no one and you belong to no one! Even a piece of f—g wood belongs to something; it starts as a tree and ends up being something. No one wants an ugly a—s like you! The Arscotts threw you away just as easily as I throw c—p in the bin!”
Beyond her temper, Mother is not much of a housekeeper. The children rarely get to take baths. They are only allowed to change their underwear on Sundays. And because their mother does not wash their sheets, their stepfather leads them in contests to see who can catch the biggest fleas.
Worst of all is that Mother cannot even support Sharon when Stepfather begins having sexual interests in her. The most gripping, compelling, yet repulsive scenes result from his sexual pursuits of Sharon and her efforts to survive in and escape a house full of whispers where no one will listen, much less help her.
Although stories of abuse can be depressing and repulsive, I found “A House Full of Whispers” a deeply satisfying narrative because of its fast-paced action as well as its character development. While the readers’ sympathies are always with Sharon, both Mother and Stepfather are so ridiculous that they are hard to like, yet there are moments when I actually felt sorry for them, such as when Mother finally tells Sharon about her real father, and Stepfather’s complaints about having to raise another man’s bastard children. While I would never condone their behavior, these scenes made both people three-dimensional and made me wish to know more about their own pasts that made them such dysfunctional beings.
The saddest part of this book is that through everything, Sharon holds on to hope. She continually envisions her mother holding her, standing up for her, taking her side against a sexually abusive stepfather. She dreams of her real father arriving to rescue her from her abusive childhood. She never gives up hope of being part of a happy family. I’m certain readers will feel compelled to go on to the second book “Surviving a House Full of Whispers” to find out whether Sharon ever achieves that dream.
For more information about Sharon Wallace and “A House Full of Whispers,” visit http://sharonwallace.co.uk/.
— Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D., and author of the award-winning “Narrow Lives”
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