We Dare Not Whisper

THE BOOK: We Dare Not Whisper

PUBLISHED IN: December 2015

THE AUTHOR: Jan Netolicky

THE PUBLISHER: Brick Mantel Books

SUMMARY:  Luce Garrison narrates the unraveling of her stoic Midwestern family: a mother plagued by bipolar disorder, a father guilt-ridden by his inability to confront his wife’s descent into madness, and Luce’s own unassailable conviction that she can never be as loved as the brothers she has lost.

As a child, Luce often lingered over albums of glossy photographs, longing to be just like her lovely, enigmatic mother. But images frozen for an instant could not capture the lightless depression and manic bouts of frenzied activity which demonized Bets Garrison. Luce does not know the depths of her mother’s undiagnosed mental illness. Her only certainty? She is an inadequate substitute for the older brother who was stillborn just three months after her parents’ marriage.

After giving birth to Jonny, eleven years Luce’s junior, Bets develops an obsessive, disturbing devotion which trumps every other relationship in the Garrison home. Although Luce tries to minimize the gulf, she is excluded from the smothering attention her mother lavishes upon Jonny. Caught in a void, she can neither be loving sister nor cherished daughter. She can only be in the way.

THE BACK STORY: Here, art imitates life. An acquaintance suffered a personal tragedy, and the resulting grief exposed the individual’s previously undiagnosed bipolar disorder.

WHY THIS TITLE: The title comes from a line in the book: “Silence is a lie we dare not whisper.” Those folks with a family member suffering from a mental disorder may be in denial about their loved one’s condition, or they may face the stigma of negative public perception, so they retreat into silence. Silence is usually an unhealthy reaction to a destructive situation. We can’t afford to keep quiet about mental illness; in fact, we need to be very vocal advocates for those who struggle.

WHY SOMEONE WOULD WANT TO READ IT: Bipolar disorder affects nearly 6 million people in the US alone. It knows no boundaries; anyone could be afflicted. I think readers will be able to empathize with the Garrisons because they could be the family next door . . . or the people living under the same roof.


“Jan Netolicky’s We Dare Not Whisper is a haunting, yet touching, paean to the beauties and complexities of familial relationships. With sharply written, heartfelt prose, Netolicky explores one family’s unthinkable tragedy coupled with a mother’s underlying mental illness, which ultimately comes into full bloom toward the novel’s climax. Netolicky, however, is able to pull all this off without a jot of sentimentality—the mark of all great writing. In this poignant and timeless novel, the Garrisons feel as though they could be your own family, and they will without a doubt stay with you long after you turn the final page.” —David Armand, author of The Gorge, Harlow, and The Pugilist’s Wife

“We Dare Not Whisper is an excellent work with breathing characters, high emotionality, and smart, good language. . . . with the emotional impact reminiscent of We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates.”  —David Rhodes, author of Driftless (winner of the Milkweed Prize) and Jewelweed

“Incredibly moving. Quite simply, one of the best books I’ve read. The story, the characters, and the setting ring so true. I have tears in my eyes as I write this.” — Peggy H., Goodreads Reader

AUTHOR PROFILE:  We Dare Not Whisper is my first novel for adults, but writing has been at the core of my professional life. I completed my undergraduate program at Upper Iowa University and earned my Master’s degree in English Education at Northeast Missouri State. In addition to the thousands of comments jotted in the margins of student essays, I’ve written for a variety of purposes and audiences, including free-lance work for local businesses, university alumni papers, and amateur theatrical productions. Primarily, I’ve spent 24 years sharing my love of reading and writing with hundreds of students.

The Skipworth Summer, my novel for young adults, was published in 2012. Now, I am delighted to introduce We Dare Not Whisper.

I live with my husband in Robins, IA, where my favorite pursuits include spending time with my children and grandchildren, enjoying spirited discussions with the women of Serendipity Book Club, writing, playing Mah Jongg, and volunteering for Gems of Hope, an organization supporting those suffering from cancer.

AUTHOR COMMENTS: Writing a book is a bit like birthing a baby. Initially, the creative process is a lot of fun, but those months of waiting for the big production can be fraught with doubt. Then, after delivery, you breathe a sigh of relief and pray everyone thinks you’ve engineered the most breathtaking thing on Earth. If We Dare Not Whisper does not rise to those lofty heights, I’m just hoping no one notices my baby’s ears stick out too much!



All those mornings I ran the shower, hot and long, until the bathroom mirror wept steam, clouding my reflection. I did not want to see evidence of Mother’s handiwork, see my eyes bruised from lack of sleep, see the lines that creased my forehead and etched parentheses of sorrow around my mouth. Bracing my arms on either side of the basin, I practiced what I would say to her if I could, snarling essays of anger composed and endlessly revised through the brutal night hours, never finding an attack cruel enough to match my pain.

My brown eyes blackened with the darkness of my rage. “How could you? What gives you the right?” Silent screams echoed in my head. “You bitch. You selfish bitch.”

Hollow words. Empty now. But then? Then, to give voice to those words would have been a relief. To fill my lungs with air, to feel my chest rise in righteous anger, to shriek the assault on my mother—surely, that would stop the bleeding, would salve the wound. Maybe, then, a scar might form, pink and puckered, a reminder I’d done battle and survived.

Everyone would see, of course. My scars rise in thick, ropy relief, marking each indignity I’ve ever suffered like a soldier’s medals worn to commemorate bravery. There’s the now-smoothed ridge from sixth grade when Debbie Halloran buckled my locked knees from behind. I fell awkwardly—as I do everything—slashing my right knee in an asymmetrical Z. Or the vestiges from the gym class volleyball game where I slammed my head against the wooden floor. My

memory convinces me I made a spectacular dig in response to a vicious spike, and the ensuing split lip and bloodied eyebrow were a fair exchange for the save. Others may have a different recollection, one in which my slow and clumsy feet tangle themselves in a comic pratfall, but they are my scars and I may attribute them to heroics if I choose.

The sad truth? I am no hero and silencing pain is not an act of valor. Silence is simply a lie we dare not whisper, and it doesn’t matter if we lie to save face or to hide the truth or to protect the ones we love. I will not be silent anymore. Not just for Mother and Dad, but for Jonny. And for my son.

It isn’t fair, you know, that Trey idolizes Jonny. My brother isn’t here. I am. But it doesn’t matter. Absent or not, Jonny is his hero. From the time he could walk, Trey mimicked Jonny’s every mannerism, perfecting the imitation until you could swear he was Jonny in miniature. Even now, when Trey pushes his hair back from his eyes or pulls up his T-shirt, exposing his belly so that he might wipe sweat from his eyes with the relatively clean underside of the fabric, I draw an involuntary breath and squint to make sure Jonny has not suddenly been shrunk to Trey’s three-foot-four frame. I see Jonny when Trey concentrates with single-minded ferocity, crinkling his brow, chewing his fingernail. I see Jonny when Trey sets his shoulders and crosses his arms in a rare show of defiance. And when Trey reluctantly succumbs to exhaustion after a day of chasing frogs and building stone towers in the garden, he channels Jonny’s characteristic stretch, lacing his fingers behind his neck and flexing his bent elbows back. Seeing him so posed, I could almost believe his arms have become angels’ wings. Does Jonny wear angels’ wings?

Had he earned that right in his twenty short years? Or is the cross where he died nothing more than an asterisk footnoting the epicenter of our family’s despair?

LOCAL OUTLETS: Next Page Books in the New Bo District

WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: We Dare Not Whisper is available through the publisher (Brick Mantel Books), Amazon (paperback and Kindle), Smashwords, Google Play Books, Barnes & Noble, and iBooks

PRICE: Trade paperback sells for $15.95; eBook versions for $4.99. CONTACT THE AUTHOR: Visit my website at http://www.jannetolicky.com or via the publisher, Jennifer Geist at Brick Mantel Books

Published by


Recently retired after 35 years with the News & Advance newspaper in Lynchburg, VA, now re-inventing myself as a novelist/nonfiction writer and writing coach in Lake George, NY.

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