Oh, those strong silent types… they’re not much for talking. For many over the holidays, silence is not the product of shyness or sullenness. Silence can be peaceable.
Even book titles can make the case for reticence. Take Rupert Thomson’s Secrecy (2013): “Secrecy could be imposed from without, like a punishment or an affliction, but it could also be cultivated, or even willed. It could offer comfort.”
For the star of this novel, the 17th century artist known as Zumbo, the silence of secrecy offers safety. But be warned: this is a creepy tale.
Nasty – and apparently untrue – rumours from the past threaten Zumbo, but he manages to outrun them long enough to be hired by the Grand Duke of Tuscany, who offers the sculptor money and protection.
Zumbo is inspired by the great Caravaggio and creates “plague pieces” out of wax, dioramas of rats feasting on the dead bodies of infants. His focus on corruption and decay reminds the rest of us of the precarious nature of life.
What if, however, he is asked to make something beautiful? What if he is asked to bring someone to life? Can he do it? And more importantly, is he capable of the silence that would allow the project to come to fruition, and guarantee his own survival?
Keeping one’s head amid the machinations of a royal court can be difficult. You have to know when to speak, and when to remain silent.
Dale Carnegie’s The Art Of Public Speaking, published back in 1915, offers assistance to the mumblers who seek a silver tongue.
Carnegie (and co-author J. Berg Esenwein) began with a warning: “Training in public speaking is not a matter of externals—primarily; it is not a matter of imitation—fundamentally; it is not a matter of conformity to standards—at all. Public speaking is public utterance, public issuance, of the man himself; therefore the first thing both in time and in importance is that the man should be and think and feel things that are worthy of being given forth. Unless there be something of value within, no tricks of training can ever make of the talker anything more than a machine—albeit a highly perfected machine—for the delivery of other men’s goods. So self-development is fundamental in our plan.
“The second principle lies close to the first: The man must enthrone his will to rule over his thought, his feelings, and all his physical powers, so that the outer self may give perfect, unhampered expression to the inner. It is futile, we assert, to lay down systems of rules for voice culture, intonation, gesture, and what not, unless these two principles of having something to say and making the will sovereign have at least begun to make themselves felt in the life.
“The third principle will, we surmise, arouse no dispute: No one can learn how to speak who does not first speak as best he can. That may seem like a vicious circle in statement, but it will bear examination.”
Just blurt, Carnegie ordered. Then improve yourself by critiquing your own talk. (You can find the complete list of rules for speechifying, as written by this pair of proficient blabbermouths, for free online.)
Some fictional protagonists could learn from Carnegie. Michael Palmer’s 2002 thriller, Fatal, offers the tale of long-haired hippie MD, Dr. Matt, who talks too much. Unlike the reserve suggested by the single word of this book title, he just cannot shut up.
He believes the mine at the edge of his West Virginia town is a health hazard, and has become a one-man harassment machine. Endless complaints filed to government watchdogs, the constant posting of accusatory home-made signs on telephone poles, the petulant demanding of meetings, the snooping through garbage. The good doctor is one of those guests at supper parties whose conversation inevitably becomes angry and accusatory. He is, in short, dedicated, well meaning, tiresome, and deeply disliked.
Fatal is a non-stop conspiracy theory, scooping in many of modern North American fears into one big ball of action-packed panic.
Dr. Matt runs off at the mouth, and keeps confiding in the wrong people.
Others, meanwhile, know that talking won’t help. When it comes to family, Fina Ludlow knows that loyalty matters more than anything.
Ingrid Thoft’s 2013 thriller, Loyalty, follows Boston-based law-school-dropout-turned-private investigator Fina Ludlow. She works for the family law firm, sneaking about in other people’s lives to help her legal beagle brothers win every case.
Until the day she needs to look into her own family. Her sister-in-law has disappeared, which makes Ludlow’s brother the main suspect in a murder investigation. And their father gives her her marching orders: “’Our job is to support him.’
“In other families, support meant bringing a dish to Thanksgiving. In the Ludlow family, it could mean all kinds of things.” Ludlow needs to know what her brother is hiding.
And in the end, she of course faces a decision: to talk, or not to talk?
Whether you’ve made the right decision depends on how you present something. But in the end, it also depends on whether others are willing to listen.
– Eleanor Brown, December 26, 2014