Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of reading Bart Schaneman’s essays and books. His ability to capture a geographic place and bring it alive has always struck me as the most powerful aspects of his writing. In his latest fiction work, The Silence Is the Noise, Schaneman once again brings to life the characters’ surroundings, this time in western Nebraska. Given that Schaneman is from this area and worked at the newspaper in Scottsbluff, I’m sure that much of this story of a cub reporter for a small town Nebraska newspaper is based on his personal experiences.
The reporter, Ethan Thomas, gets a big story when an oil company starts pumping fracking water into the ground nearby, causing earthquakes. Thomas has just returned to his hometown after living in various cities and tries to figure out his place in life. He stumbles through understanding how to handle a big story, being back in his old hometown, and in a relationship with someone who desperately wants to leave Nebraska.
It is in the relationship between one person to another as well as one person to their environment that the book finds its strength. The connection between Thomas and his editor, who guides him as he starts his journalism career, is heartening. This relationship, as well as the one between Ethan Thomas and his lover, Lucy, drives much of the story.
Yet there is another relationship that carries on throughout these pages. It is the relationship we have with our environment: the sky, the grass, the air, and everything that surrounds us, especially for those living in rural settings. These relationships—interpersonal and environmental—form the foundation of the one question that is overarching in The Silence Is the Noise: how do we connect back to those places we once called our home? How do we handle the memories and feelings we have of a place verses who we have become in the years since we left that place?
It is in that dichotomy that Schaneman weaves his tale and takes us along for the ride. He does so in a story that cuts out the fat and moves along quickly (something I always appreciate). I’ve been to similar wide open places Schaneman describes in this book. Places where the openness of the environment affects your emotions and the sky just seems to roll on forever. While I don’t know if I would ever want to live in such a place, Schaneman makes me want to see that environment and meet the characters in The Silence Is the Noise. And the ability to want to live inside the setting of a book is one of the most powerful things a writer can accomplish. –Kurt Morris (Trident Press, 940 Pearl St., Boulder, CO 80302)