Kenan Oak returns from World War I to a small Ontario town. He is virtually unable to speak and dares not venture from his home. Adopted by a reclusive uncle at an early age, he has no immediate family but his wife, Tressa, who loves him and accepts his disability with good grace. They have been trying to have a child without success, and the glimmers of Kenan’s recovery are dauntingly few and faint. Slowly with the help of his uncle Am, he begins to go out at night for walks in the woods and skating on the ice of the lake.  

Am and his wife Maggie have a strained marriage. She loves to sing and once aspired to a career in music, but instead she opted for Am and a farm—although now they live in town. Lukas, a gifted new musician arrives to direct the choir; he is a postwar immigrant from an unnamed European country, possibly Germany. He notices her talent and encourages her to sing solo at the upcoming New Year’s concert. Unused to the attention, she is captivated by him, his mystique, his appreciation of her, and the return of joy through song. They have an affair, which is discovered by Am.  

Well into the story, it emerges that Am and Maggie had lost two children to diphtheria, and this trauma is at the heart of their marital strife. It is why they left their farm and have grown apart.  But Maggie imposed an edict of silence on this exquisitely painful past. In contrast, Tressa slowly encourages her silent husband to tell—by inventing stories for him and letting him revise.  His adoptive uncle gives him a postage-stamp sized photograph of his nameless mother and grandmother; together they construct a story.

Maggie falls pregnant with Lukas’s baby. She goes away to have the child but Am cannot accept it. Compounding Maggie’s woe, she stays with Am—for all their strife, they are bound in their loss. She allows Tressa and Kenan to adopt her beloved baby.  


An exploration of post-traumatic stress in World War I—before it had been so named. The curious townsfolk are remarkably respectful of Kenan and patient with his shell-shocked disability. Is that how it really was for such damaged young men?  

One of many messages in this haunting story is the possibility of healing through talking – Telling. Kenan is drawn out of his misery with slow words–but Am and Maggie fall ever deeper into their sorrow and further apart because they do not speak of it. Another aspect is the emphasis on music and sound as a form of communication, solace, and strength—available to Maggie, but not to broken Am – who both suffer their own form of post-traumatic stress.  

This story is related to Deafening, by the same author also in this database. Tressa is the sister of the deaf Grania of that tale whose husband is also a veteran of the Great War. 



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