The Hearing Test
by Eliza Barry Callahan
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Pub Date 05 Mar 2024 | Archive Date 23 Feb 2024
When the narrator of The Hearing Test, an artist in her late twenties, awakens one morning to a deep drone in her right ear, she is diagnosed with Sudden Deafness, but is offered no explanation for its cause. As the specter of total deafness looms, she keeps a record of her year—a score of estrangement and enchantment, of luck and loneliness, of the chance occurrences to which she becomes attuned—while living alone in a New York City studio apartment with her dog.
Through a series of fleeting and often humorous encounters—with neighbors, an ex-lover, doctors, strangers, family members, faraway friends, and with the lives and works of artists, filmmakers, musicians, and philosophers—making meaning becomes a form of consolation and curiosity, a form of survival.
At once a rumination on silence and a novel on seeing, The Hearing Test is a work of vitalizing intellect and playfulness which marks the arrival of a major new literary writer with a rare command of form, compression, and intent.
“Eerie and tender and utterly consuming, The Hearing Test has built an entirely new world from the materials of the one we know. It takes you to a restaurant called Il Vuoto (the void), and serves you its primal, beguiling sustenance: a nourishment of pauses, estrangement, and bewilderment. The voice here is wise and wry and wondering; in its fresh and faltering silences are frequencies I’ve never heard before. From the first paragraph, I knew I wanted to keep reading Eliza Barry Callahan forever.”
—Leslie Jamison, author of Splinters and The Empathy Exams
“An artist suffering from sudden hearing loss finds herself even more sensitive to the lives of others, observing neighbors and the absurdities of the city, always punctuated by art and literary gossip. This debut work by Eliza Callahan is an extraordinary piece of literature, to be read alongside the novels of W.G. Sebald, Rachel Cusk, and María Gainza.”
—Kate Zambreno, author of Drifts
“In this striking novel, ‘controlled panic’ gives way to a cool remove when a young artist suddenly goes deaf. Silence, for her, ‘is dressed as an injury,’ but it is also the point of entry into the lives of other creators, and philosophers. Elegant and startling, The Hearing Test is a contemplative gem.”
—Amy Hempel, author of Sing to It
“Not for a while have I read a book by a writer new to me, and felt so much toward it so fast. The Hearing Test takes up fragility, sound and silence, solitude, the unknown, and the self in relation to others with a light, yet serious touch. I've found a new favorite.”
—Amina Cain, author of Indelicacy
“A young woman’s sudden hearing loss initiates and propels The Hearing Test. But affliction is also a catalyst for the many irresistible twists and digressions that make this novel of dérive so compelling. Callahan never explains; with steely reserve she observes and chronicles, makes ingenious, delirious connections and transitions, and takes us on a journey through her cultural mindscape of artists, writers, cinema and music, offering it up with muted irony and a limpid grace. The Hearing Test is ecstatic prose.”
—Moyra Davey, author of Index Cards