There are so many different openings I came up with to review Liza Wiemer’s miracle of a novel, “Hello?”, yet not one of them really works.
I thought of the REM song lyric, “Everybody hurts, sometimes.” In “Hello?”, everybody hurts at some point or another. Sometimes, it’s because of their own actions—a missed signal given or acted upon, a lie left to fester too long. Other times, the hurt comes from the death of a most-cherished loved one, or memories of long-ago wounds. Still others hurt because they don’t know how to relate to their loved ones’ pain—or when, simply, to give them the space and time they need to sort out their feelings.
I thought, too, of a really nasty curveball. In baseball, a great curveball comes out of the pitcher’s hand, and it looks so incredibly enticing—OMG, this guy made a mistake! I’m going to smash this into the cheap seats—then, right at the point the batter swings, the ball breaks sharply downward, and bat misses ball by a ridiculous margin. “Hello?” is full of curveballs. Liza Wiemer’s characters all have their secrets and scars (some scars metaphorical, others corporeal). When some of her characters think they know another’s truth, there’s the sharp break, and they’re off by a mile.
Similarly, as readers, we are kept back on our heels, as curveball after curveball leaps up at us from the page. Practically every time we know just what a person has been through or why they behave a certain way, there it is, and we’re left wide-eyed, wondering how we could’ve been so badly fooled.
This isn’t authorial trickery, though. It’s our own fault for expecting people—and characters—to be so easily predictable and shallow, that we can properly assume what lurks beneath their respective surfaces. We know the clichés: the good-hearted, nice-guy jock, the unruly party girl, the emo outsider, the emotionally stunted sad girl. We know them all so well, but “Hello?” chips through these veneers, and shows us what we so rarely see: the insecurities and desperation to be understood that lurks around dark corners in each of our hearts. It is a tribute to Ms. Wiemer that her writing peels back these layers, so we can see in her characters those same emotions and feelings most of us try to hide.
The image I finally settled upon as best representing “Hello?” is the Olympic Rings. Five rings, interconnected into one symbol.
Indeed, “Hello?” has five main characters, all of them high school seniors. There’s Tricia, who just lost her grandmother, her last surviving relative, and her only link to her past. Emerson is a popular jock and excellent student, whose heart holds a terrible guilt he’s incapable of releasing. Angie has secrets so dark she can only express her thoughts through her poetry journal. Brian is a potter, a hugely talented artist, who sets his own life aside for his best friend, a choice that hurts them both. Brenda is a brilliant actress and screenplay writer, who is most comfortable seeing herself in the third-person, as if she were a character in her own drama.
These five lives intersect in some ways that are predictable—students at the same small high school would obviously know each other, for example—but it’s the serendipitous way other circles connect that makes “Hello?” such a joy to read.
GOD, there are so many things I would love to write about “Hello?”, but spoilers. “Hello?” deserves for each reader to approach it without any preconceived notions, able to savor every nuance and twist with fresh eyes.
At the end of the day, The Universe has an odd way of working things out, and what begins with a tearful, late night, wrong number phone call, can somehow end up with a hugely satisfying resolution. The Universe has a bitch of a curveball. So does Liza Wiemer. “Hello?” is a beautiful, intelligent, unpredictable ride.
Most Highly Recommended