Christmas Critics

Mollie Wilson O’Reilly

“Christmas, how I hate it,” Desmond Bates grumbles. His complaints are typical: the commercial push starts too early; the forced gaiety drags on too long; and then—as the Grinch would say—there’s the noise, noise, noise, noise! For Desmond, the hero of David Lodge’s Deaf Sentence (Viking, $22.95, 291 pp.), “Sounds are meaningful,” but “noise is meaningless and ugly. Being deaf converts so much sound into noise that you would rather have quiet.”

Gradual hearing loss has forced Desmond into early retirement from academia. He’s at loose ends until a pushy young American student turns up looking for help with her dissertation. The stage seems set for farce—but though Lodge’s sense of humor is as reliable as ever, the mood of Deaf Sentence is more reflective than antic. As basic conversation becomes more difficult, Desmond begins to write, making a journal of his “discontents.” He puzzles about his wife’s rediscovery of her Catholic faith, and their growing estrangement (“I think she would be not speaking to me,” he confides, “if it wasn’t for the fact that when she does speak to me I don’t hear what she’s saying half the time”). He worries about the living arrangements of his elderly, even-harder-of-hearing father. He frets about his own future,...

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About the Author

Suzanne Keen is the Thomas H. Broadus Professor of English at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia.