Guernica Editions has published Vancouver author and poet Suzanne Chiasson’s first novel, Tacet which at under 200 pages flirts with the novella classification, and due to this brevity, leaves more questions unanswered than answered. It is the story of Charlotte, a singer (of the nightclub type) and Theo, a twentysomething actor who works in a restaurant to pay the rent to his good friend and roommate Curtis.
At one time in the past, Charlotte was Theo’s step-mother, until one day when Johann (Theo’s father) took young Theo and left Charlotte behind. Fast-forward to the present, and a 39-year-old Charlotte is living in Jaqueline Day’s lavish home in Vancouver. Jacqueline, in her early sixties, is a type of arts maven, throwing dinner parties and soirées at which Charlotte is expected to sing, like a caged exotic bird, for all to gawk at. (Later in the book, in a telling moment, Theo, while looking in Jaqueline’s garage for a tennis racquet, finds an empty birdcage. However, the “bird” is now caged in the house, for Charlotte never goes outside.) At one of the soirées, Theo goes as a guest with Curtis and to his surprise he sees (or rather hears) Charlotte singing. If it seems like a setup by Jacqueline, it may well be for she proceeds to quickly assimilate the directionless Theo into the household, even getting him an agent and an acting job. From this point in the story, Tacet comes across as a pastiche of Sunset Boulevard: Theo finds clothes his size in the guest bedroom closet, drawers full of new underwear and socks, and all the alcohol and cigarettes he needs are miraculously (and freely) provided.
Then, at one of Jacqueline’s soirées, the music dies as Charlotte sings, but only in her mind, and most beautifully at that.
…she’d had the feeling of singing. Intense feeling. So intense that it was best not to try expressing it vocally. Best not to jeopardize it, dilute it. Best to keep it intact and pure and strong.
She also no longer speaks (or communicates in any form). Jacqueline is furious and charges Theo with getting her to speak as if he has any idea what to do. (A kind of Charlotte-whisperer?) This sends him on a desperate search to discover what happened to Charlotte after his father spirited them away all those years ago. Perhaps he can find some meaning as to Charlotte’s existing mental state and bring her out of it.
A beautifully shaped novel with gentle notes of human frailty and sadness that evokes compassion, Tacet is not a depressing novel, far from it for it holds out the hope that a caged bird-like Charlotte can be a free one if they take the opportunity to shake their gilded confines.
Tacet by Suzanne Chiasson
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