Review by Maria Bolaños
Book Review: The Quiet is Loud by Samantha Garner
The Quiet is Loud, published in May 2021 by Invisible Publishing, is author Samantha Garner’s debut speculative fiction novel. Garner is a biracial Filipina-Canadian living in the Greater Toronto area. Her writing career began with blogging in 1997, and since then her stories and poems have been published in print and online, in publications such as The Fiddlehead, Kiss Machine, Storychord, WhiskeyPaper, Sundog Lit, and The Quarantine Review. The Quiet is Loud is available now in Canada, and will be available in the US in August 2021.
“In ancient Norse society, people believed that there was a type of magic called seiðr. They said it could weave new strands of fate.”
Freya Tanangco is a young woman whose quiet life is wrapped tightly around a secret: she is paradextrous, a person with rare mental abilities that border on the superhuman and the supernatural. Paradextrous skills range from being able to manipulate emotions, detect the presence of other paradextrous people, and create illusions in the mind. Freya has a particularly rare skill: she can see the future when she dreams. Armed with her premonitions, her actions can often make or break a life. In this way, Freya resembles her Norse goddess namesake, a figure of war and wisdom, a bridge between two worlds, a weaver of fate.
But Freya must hide her paradexterity away from a world that tracks and imprisons “vekers” like her and subjects them to torture and human experimentation. She is forced to hide her skill even from her own father, a controversial Filipino-Canadian author who hates vekers and believes that any and all secrets are fair game for his novels. Instead she seeks the camaraderie of STEP, a paradexterity support group that promises to help her develop her ability. But Freya soon learns that even among similarly skilled people, with community comes a risk that threatens to rip open her cloistered world.
Fear is a strong silencer. The overwhelming hostility towards vekers drives them into hiding and seeps into their self-perception, teaching them to view themselves with hate. As a result, vekers rarely seek help to understand their abilities. This may resonate with anyone who identifies as a member of a marginalized community, especially regarding the salience of identity and the politics of “passing.” Readers of mutant and superhero stories will recognize the questions of who we choose to call “freak” & “alien,” “hero” & “villain,” as Freya and her paradextrous peers struggle to find acceptance and belonging and chase the elusive security of normalcy.
In addition to Freya’s struggle to understand her (dis)ability, she must also puzzle together her Scandinavian roots and her Filipinx roots and fit them into the framework of her Canadian world. But in this she is met with the silence created by obscured history:
“It all seemed significant, worth remembering...She leaned against the old limestone...What must it be like to live in such an old house, with such old walls? What would it be like to live here at all, to take all of its history for granted?”
The reader who is a member of a diaspora culture might know firsthand the unmoored, nebulous way that Freya relates to her mixed-race heritage. She has been severed from ancestral lands and ancestral knowledge, yet she is in love with a history that is closed to her. So, she turns to myth. Repeatedly throughout the story we see Norse and Filipinx myth threaded into Freya’s memories of her parents, as if to say that this fantasy itself is a kind of family history.
And she needs this mythical family history, because her family is perhaps her most painful source of silence. Her father’s novel fractured whatever was left of the idyllic home life of Freya’s childhood; her past has long since been buried under the layers of trauma, grudges, injury, and distance apart. Freya’s last remaining connection to her relatives is her cousin Mary, a voice of reason who pushes Freya to join STEP and look for refuge and redemption in found family. The reader will see for themselves whether Freya’s family relationships can be salvaged; but as we turn the pages with bated breath, we can’t help but hope amidst the quiet.
The smallest, most personal details give the novel its viscerality. Garner’s touch is subtle and effective: I could sense the coolness in the air, hear the rustle of the trees opening up to a steely blue-tinged sky. I could smell the longsilog cooking in the kitchen, taste the sweet-and-sour bite into a crispy boot-shaped chicken nugget. I could shuffle Freya’s tarot deck, run my finger along the cards’ edges and corners frayed by the passage of time, hold in my hands the comforting heft of promised answers. All of these details braid together into a story that at once feels so easily real and also glimmers with possibility, that fantastical tug of and yet.
A veker, a dreamer, an oracle. Freya would know better than most that there’s a profound power in knowing your story, in acknowledging, in bearing witness, in committing to memory all the painful and beautiful ways that all of our lives connect, that all of our fates weave together.
Maria Bolaños (she/her) is the General Editor for Marías at Sampaguitas. She is a Filipina-American poet and book reviewer and is committed to building spaces to nurture and showcase Filipinxao literature as well as Black, Indigenous, and POC literature. Her most recent poetry focuses on Fil-Am diaspora culture, and on retelling Philippine myths. Her writing has been featured in Touchstone, Antigone, Chopsticks Alley, and the International Examiner, among others. Outside of her work with this magazine, she has also recently begun working with a labor rights nonprofit organization. Maria lives on the stolen Gabrielino/Tongva land, Tovaangar. You can follow her poetry, essays, and book reviews on her Instagram, @mariabeewrites. If you wish to use prefixes, please use Ms.