Unsaid by Neil Abramson

The paperback edition of Unsaid has an adorable dog on the cover – it’s a chocolate Labrador Retriever. That’s the only reason I decided to read this book. No Labradors appear anywhere in this novel, so I have no idea why that dog is featured on the cover unless it is some sort of marketing technique geared towards people that enjoy looking at cute dogs.

Since there are no Labradors in this book, I’ll tell you what is in it. There’s a dead narrator, a grieving husband, a boy with Asperger’s Syndrome, a chimpanzee named Cindy, and a plethora of pets ranging from a pig to two horses. Apparently none of these options were viable for the cover. Moving on. Our narrator, Helena, has died of a very nasty, invasive cancer, and now she is telling her story from limbo as she watches her friends and family living life without her. Helena was a veterinarian that loved animals, and her husband, David, struggles to take care of the army of creatures that really only liked Helena. Helena and David’s friends try to help David get over his grief, and eventually he hires a vet tech named Sally to take care of the animals (and to take care of him). Sally’s son, Clifford, suffers from Asperger’s, but seems able to communicate with animals on a deep level in a way that he cannot connect with humans. David begins to appreciate life through watching Clifford, and since he is feeling better he agrees to go back to work (as a lawyer) and take on the case of JC. JC is a former colleague of Helena’s, and she has kidnapped a chimpanzee from a government-run facility and now she is in big trouble. Cindy the chimpanzee knows American Sign Language, and JC fears the animal will become a lab subject now that her [JC’s] grant has run out.

Does this all seem jumbled and awkwardly connected to you? Me too. Abramson relates some intriguing ideas regarding animal rights, animal intelligence, and the pain of losing a loved one. Moreover, the idea of a dead narrator is perfect in terms of omniscience. However, there is way too much going on in here. I’m as interested in chimp language studies as the next person (no sarcasm – doesn’t everyone find that at least a little interesting?), but I don’t know that it fits into a novel about a grieving widower stuck with a lot of his dead wife’s dogs.  Maybe I missed something, but Unsaid would have been better left unwritten.

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