Antonia Lively Breaks the Silence: A Novel
By David Samuel Levinson
David Samuel Levinson’s debut novel, Antonia Lively Breaks the Silence, serves as a warning to aspiring novelists that will force them to question if the literary life is for them—especially after they meet Antonia Lively and Henry Swallow.
The story opens with Catherine Strayed, widow of the late, novelist Wyatt Strayed. Catherine spends her days wondering whether Wyatt’s death was accidental, suicide, or even foul play. Prior to Wyatt’s passing, Catherine’s world was turned upside down when her former mentor and lover Henry Swallow—a powerful literary critic who destroyed Wyatt’s writing career—turns up at Winslow, the small town in upstate New York, to teach at the university. One night, Henry shows up at Catherine’s house wanting to speak with Wyatt, leaving Catherine to fret over the long conversation between the two men. Soon after their discussion, Wyatt begins to work on another novel.
Now more than a year later after Wyatt’s death, Catherine meets Antonia Lively, Henry’s protégé and the publishing world’s new literary “It Girl.” Antonia is looking for a summer rental and tells Catherine that Henry informed her that her house is available for the season. Upset by Henry’s assumption, Catherine confronts him at the university, and soon she is cajoled to rent him Wyatt’s writing cottage.
With Henry renting the cottage and Antonia visiting, Catherine finds herself at odds about their relationship—she becomes fond of the young novelist, but distrusts Henry’s motives. The summer turns murkier and dangerous when a number of malevolent incidents occur involving Antonia, her father, and mentally deranged uncle.
For readers who follow literary scandals, Levinson inserts one à la James Frey, but in this case it deals with Henry’s purist definition of fiction versus Antonia’s perception of truth, using the novel as a vehicle to expose it. With those two opposing views, the story enters into dangerous territory where reputations can be forever damaged and destroyed.
Antonia Lively Breaks the Silence is spellbinding with an important takeaway: beware of friendly, young novelists.