Sweetwater

Sweetwater - Lisa Henry I know what to say with this review but don't know how.

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I’ve had a long story with deaf characters in books. Most of the times I feel I’m reading sci-fi books instead of historical or contemporary, because they are truly idilic. I want a honest perspective of what deafness really entails and I’ve reached a point where I open those books with a distrustful look instead of an excited one. One after another I ended up upset or laughing like a madwoman because the story didn’t deserve more than that. For those who don’t know it yet, I’m 100% deaf, so I think I’m in a position to judge the veracity of Elijah’s character.

Based on some people’s words, I’m not deaf because I hear a way too well. Yes, cochlear implants are awesome but I’m not “cured”. That’s partly good because I’ve gone very far thanks to them. But that’s also so very bad because people first treat me as an idiot, exaggerating the lip movement and asking me if I can read them, and then forgetting it all and don’t paying me any kind of attention or kindness when they have figured out I have no problem having a conversation. So they just accept I passed the test and that I understand everything. Which is like me saying “Bonjour” and people assuming I speak perfect French. The first attitude makes me feel like an idiot, although I appreciate the effort. And the second one makes me feel ignored, which I don't appreciate at all. I’m somehow in the middle. Some kind of consideration is good, but suffocating me or forgetting it all is no good at all. Several people go so far they tell me they can’t believe I’m deaf-mute and I answer that’s understandable because as a proper mute person I talk quite well. I can make people feel like idiots if I choose to, too.

There is this widespread belief that every deaf person can lipread. If that person can hear something or uses hearing aids, he possibly can lipread or be helped by it. Lipreading is related to oral language, which pure deaf people normally lack because they usually can only communicate via sign language. I can lipread but I don’t usually depend on it because that’s the extreme situation. It means, when I don’t have my implants on. I don’t have that much practice because I prefer trusting sound.

The hearing world is hostile for some, very hostile. You have your family and your friends and people like you. But mostly it’s very hostile. Not because by norm people are not willing to help, just the opposite, they are sometimes too willing, but because expectations and the rhythm they demand is out of reach for you.

I don't have the arrogance to say every deaf person feels like this, but I assure you more than one will feel identified with my words.

You are deaf. You don’t receive the same exposure to the world as an average person. You receive by far much less information. You are isolated. You get obsessed at little things and think about them again and again because you are alone in your world. A simpler world. You are socially awkward, because your voice is weird, what you catch is weird and you fail in the answer and people frown at you or laughs at the misunderstanding so you are in constant tension and you pay too much attention and you are tired and in the end your self-confidence fails. So you shut up and you retreat into your shell. Vicious circle. In the end, you learn how to appreciate yourself or you sink. Self-steem is harder to achieve.

Think about this. Now there are sounds around you, you catch everything around you and you focus on only some of those sounds and ignore the rest as best as you can. You filter. Now you are deaf. You don’t receive all those sounds. You receive much less. You need a bigger stimuli to pay much more attention to those sounds you feel interested in because otherwise you lose them all and you don’t get the message as a whole. You miss words, the sentence doesn’t make sense, you can’t understand the sentence till you have it “written” on your mind. It takes more time to get the message not because you don’t understand the meaning but because having blind spots is frequent. And the world is not static, it moves and needs a fast answer. So you have two options: ask for a repetition (which is risky because it can happen the second time doesn’t help either so you have to ask for a third one and seem stupid) or you can answer in an ambiguous way (which is risky because you don’t really answer the question or you answer the opposite, so now you are royally stupid). There is a big pressure out there, they expect you to understand, and if you don’t understand, you are stupid and they begin treating you as one. In the end, conversations are much less dynamic. And groups of people are a real challenge.

Also, it's possible that there is an event that takes too much attention and even though you put all your being in it you don’t understand a thing, so you stop paying attention. For example, places with too much noise, with too many people, with too many obstacles. Because it’s tiresome and there is no benefit. So your mind wanders. Trustworthy people order you to pay attention. Most think you are not interested. Lots of times you can’t even do two things at the same time. Eating or listening. Writing or listening. Looking or listening. There is an “or” and hardly an “and”. And in a world where dividing your attention is the norm and rarely the exception, it sucks. Sometimes when I go out to have lunch I eat first and listen after, I even put an interested face during the whole meal if circumstances are not suitable. I kid you not.

I’m not saying everything is impossible. I study Medicine and I’m not the only one in my circumstances who go on like that with challenging situations everyday. I have it all so interiorized I barely notice. I've learnt to appreciate myself and how to work hard. I've had a life of practice to develop some compensations and tricks and even to disguise it all. I don't have a weird voice so if I don't tell, I can pass myself off as normal (or stupid if I fail in my answer, so I just say I'm sleepy or if I'm in a good mood or it could bring some kind of benefit I explain). But if I have difficulty coping with it all, imagine how a really deaf person manages. Or tries to. Or fails. But be careful, mothers at pre-school used to look at me with pity but those same mothers began looking at me with envy in a few years. People with handicaps are the ones who hold the most ability to amaze because it's utterly unexpected. But think... where would those people be if they had no handicap at all?

Another detail. Songs suck. Words are stretched out or said in a hurry and there is a background music/noise. I always look for the lyrics, because I can barely understand them, even in my own language. I can appreciate a good song, though. But I can live without them. I guess what takes too much effort is less searched for.

So, this is a romance book. Why the hell I'm talking about all of this?

Elijah is partly deaf. I’m deaf but not deaf, so in the end I felt some kind of empathy for him, which is not at all due to him being deaf but to the ability of the author to portray a real deaf person. I like Elijah and his deafness is very well explained and demonstrated. It's not only the way the author says it, but it's showed throughout the story. In every conversation. In every soliloquy. In every act. Elijah is ordered to pay attention constantly. Elijah doesn't understand songs. Elijah thinks too much. Elijah's world is too small. Elijah retreats into his shell. Elijah has self-steem problems. Elijah has problems with conversations and how he had never learnt the skill to talk to someone like that. Elijah feels less than the average person and people think Elijah is less than the average person. Elijah thinks and acts and has a perspective you can expect to find in a deaf person. If you read this book, be aware you are reading the living definition of deafness.

Except the submissive facet. That's a different matter altogether. I'm not really a BDSM fan, but I can't complain at all about his tastes. I understood them, the humiliation, the pain, the pleasure he felt. And the fury and shame and shyness. And his determination. In the beginning he's the guy who lets everybody take advantage of. He crawls. But something happens, and suddenly there is a fire in him. And he grows as a person. I think Elijah is a quite complete and developed character, no matter how you look at it.

About the story, I can't complain either. I liked the Crane/Grady conflict. Dr. Carter/God conflict. And I liked Grady a lot, although it would be hard for me to believe his attitude in real life. No problem here, he was utterly enchanted with Elijah. It's a veneration I understood and felt believable.

There are unexpected but very sweet moments. And the last pages are just perfect.

All in all, a great western romance book. And a great character.

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