Thick-skinned, independent, and fiercely loyal, Dottie Connell farms his family’s three hundred acres in rural Ohio alone, having sacrificed love and family for land she does not own. A sudden, inexplicable event leaves the daughter of her childhood friend in her care. Pressured by her community to allow her former fiancée to raise the child, Dottie must face the past she has worked fifteen years to forget.
In a stunning portrayal of forgiveness withheld, Dottie adopts her best friend’s daughter. As she struggles to raise Mattie, her hired hand, the only man to work for her longer than a season, befriends the child and seeks to gain Dottie’s trust. These relationships confront Dottie with her long-entrenched ideas about motherhood, sexuality, and God. When her struggle to buy back the farm comes to a disturbing climax, she realizes that in order to keep it, she will have to betray her deceased friend and her daughter.
Spanning a decade, their story is a mesmerizing portrait of betrayal and the mysteries of grace. This Heavy Silence explores the power of the vows we make to others, and, more binding, those we make to ourselves. Evoking the hardship, spring-fed beauty, and the complexities of community in the rural Midwest, this beautifully observed, debut novel leads us to question our ideas about faith, the debts we owe, and forgiveness.
Critical Reviews of This Heavy Silence
Named one of the Best Books of 2005 by Library Journal “Stubborn, independent Dottie Connell’s greatest desire is to own the 300 acres of farmland that her family has worked all her life. Then childhood friend Zela Brubaker dies unexpectedly, naming Dottie as the guardian of her young daughter, Mattie. Although Dottie is not sure she wants to raise the girl, she finally has her chance to purchase her beloved land, but the cost requires Mattie’s total inheritance, which is more than the property will ever be worth. First novelist Mazzarella creates a memorable protagonist who thwarts every chance at love by demanding those around her to join in her all-consuming devotion to the land. She knows the life she has chosen, and she also knows the terrible price she will pay for it. A finalist for the Paraclete Press Fiction Award of 2004, this is highly recommended for all collections.”
– Library Journal, starred review
“Simply put, This Heavy Silence is a great read…this is a complex and layered novel about the choices we make and the relationships we build. ”
– Chicago Sun-Times
“Mazzarella treats her protagonist as an individual of consequence. She treats her with respect.”
– Ohioana Quarterly
Christianity Today’s Fiction Book of 2006 “Nuanced characterization, finely wrought scene-setting, subtlety in addressing questions of faith, repentance, and forgiveness. Mazzarella appreciates the ways that decent, hardworking, righteous people can be tempted to go astray. Her characters are developed masterfully, and her prose style is both beautiful and precise. Dottie Connell’s obsession to own the farmland her family has worked for her whole life forces her to make moral choices that will affect both herself and her ward, the child of her deceased best friend. This finalist in the Paraclete Press fiction contest is an understated literary gem.” – Christianity Today
“With grace, wisdom, an exacting moral imagination, and a sense of well-loved place that is all too rarely met, Mazzarella’s beautiful novel explores the fertile ground of inner growth, the difference between what it means to age and what it means to ripen. An unforgettable book by a writer to watch.”
– Janet Peery, author of Alligator Dance and The River Beyond the World, l996 Finalist for the National Book Award in Fiction
“Nicole Mazzarella’s This Heavy Silence tells the story of Dottie Connell, a tough (but not so tough) farmer who fights for everything she gets, including her own hard-won wisdom. This is a novel about family and history, about loneliness and love, about seasons of growth. Ambitious and bittersweet.”
– Sheri Reynolds, author of Rapture of Canaan (Oprah Book Club)
“Independent, self-sufficient, tenacious — Dottie Connell, the heroine of Nicole Mazzarella’s moving new novel, values her plain farmwoman’s strengths. Those strengths have aided her in the long battle to keep her father’s farm. But when she is given custody of her best friend’s little girl, she is forced to recognize her limits. Inch by painful inch, Dottie reconsiders her life’s choices, and maps afresh the boundaries of the human heart. This Heavy Silence is a fiercely beautiful meditation on will, desire and love’s limitations. The work of an artist of deep commitment, it will linger long in readers’ memories.”
– Erin McGraw, author of The Good Life
“Like the land she inhabits and the people she attends, Nicole Mazzarella offers a subtle and enduring beauty, born of intense interiority, and vision both broad and deep.”
– Scott Cairns, author of Philokalia: New & Selected Poems