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Courtesy of Harper Collins Publishing

November 28, 2018

‘This Splintered Silence’ is Incomplete Despite Being Immersive

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Kayla Olson’s second book This Splintered Silence invites us onboard the Lusca, an exploratory space station that houses Earth’s top scientists and their families as they work to terraform the nearby planet Radix. These operations are halted, however, by the arrival of a virus that decimates the entire adult population of the station. Lindley Hamilton, the daughter of the Commander, and her five closest friends, Leo, Heath, Haven, Natalin and Zesi, are forced to step into the roles their parents have left to them. With no help or guidance and still reeling from the loss of those closest to them, they must shoulder the burden of running the station and keep everyone together — an impossible job made only more impossible when a member of the second generation dies, appearing to succumb to the virus they were supposed to be immune from. But as more kids die and the facts refuse to add up, Lindley must face the most horrible of possibilities: either the virus has mutated, or one of their own is a killer.

Under these pressures, Lindley struggles to keep her footing. Olson grounds the narrative in Lindley’s perspective, aligning us with the girl who is only fighting to do her best when she is hopelessly out of her depth. As a character, Lindley is fierce, independent and broken. Like everyone on the station, she lost her mother to the virus, and her newfound duties as Commander leave her no time to deal with this grief. She is a hollow girl trying to keep everyone else together, and in this her strength is nothing short of admirable. The tightness of Lindley’s perspective keeps us trapped in her head; we feel her anxieties, her exhaustion, her doubts, her insecurities and her sadness. We also feel her hope, her determination to make a bad situation work, and her unwillingness to fail. The intensity of the novel can be overwhelming at times, but it only mirrors the situation. It reminds us that even the tiniest of victories can feel like huge ones, and that no matter the odds, you can survive.

In keeping so close to Lindley’s immediate perspective, however, the overall sense of the world Olson has built is lost, consumed by the drama onboard the station. Only a few bits of information are given as to the politics and spaces around them. Earth is known only through voice calls and supply missions. The outside threat of Vonn and his colonist-slaves on Radix are not fully developed or explored, only talked about in relation to Lindley’s fears. The novel struggles to balance the external threats of the company and the internal threats of the virus and the possible killer, ultimately focusing more on the internal. In doing so, the station really does seem to be marooned in space, leaving the reader to accept its existence for the sake of the story without contextualizing it further.

In a similar manner, even some of the internal conflicts of the story appear to be dropped or sidelined for the sake of focusing more heavily on the mutated virus and the murderer. Lindley’s life before the virus and her mother’s death is alluded to but never fully explored, and her connection to her friends is established and then left largely unchanged. The burgeoning love triangle that occurs as the story progresses is incidental to the plot and ultimately left unresolved. Taking these together, it feels like the plot tried to include both too much and not enough, weighting itself unevenly.

Overall, however, as a meditation on human endurance, This Splintered Silence succeeds as a character study and a thriller. Lindley is a great character to follow; she’s smart, capable and humanly flawed. The ending manages to surprise, and the writing is an immersive blend of poetical language and prose. In its depiction of the bonds of friendship and family, the novel shines. Though a greater sense of the world could have been developed, the strength of the novel rests in the smaller things: in Lindley and her friends, in the holes left by the ones they have lost and their willingness to fight for the only home they have known.

 

Jessica Lussier is a sophomore in the college of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at jll335@cornell.edu.