T H E L I S T E N E R S (Tin House, 2012)
Finalist for the 2013 Oregon Book Award
Selected for the Powell's Books "Indiespensable" Book Club
Named one of The Atlantic Wire’s Best Books of 2012
Watch the book trailer by the brilliant Luca Dipierro.
“Just listen to The Listeners. You’ll hear the prose of one of our most exciting young writers. Zumas has already proven herself a remarkable maker of short stories. Now she has sustained and heightened the exhilaration of her writing in this striking novel.”
—Sam Lipsyte, The Fun Parts
“Leni Zumas’s visceral debut novel is a darkly funny and disturbing rager. Weaving a dreamlike coming-of-age story with the melancholic tale of a rock band self-destructing and a family’s loss, Zumas’s deft language careens through the lives of her characters with killer sentence after killer sentence. It’s a crushing, dazzling performance.”
—Kevin Sampsell, This Is Between Us
"Leni Zumas’s The Listeners is a novel whose narrator, a thirtysomething bookstore manager and former singer named Quinn, orbits around the loss of her younger sister. Zumas’s effort to preserve that loss is stunningly successful. She reveals Quinn to us in circling episodes, deftly holding the character in the form of a smear of selfhood who doesn’t want to be entire…" [ Click to read more ] —HTMLGiant
"Reading Leni Zumas’s debut novel The Listeners puts one in mind of the Boston Molasses Disaster of 1919. Not because the novel is messy—it isn’t—but because it contains the same rare combination of death, absurdity, and beauty, and a tempo slow enough to allow the reader full appreciation of all three…" [ Click to read more ] —The Rumpus
"Disorientation. That’s what I felt when I started The Listeners, the debut novel by Portland author Leni Zumas that sets her up to be a formidable, idiosyncratic new voice in American fiction…" [ Click to read more ] —Portland Monthly
"Leni Zumas’s first novel is so oddly eerie I couldn’t read it before bed, and so visceral I couldn’t read it over lunch. It’s also one of my favorite books of the year so far, a painful, sharply written story about a thirtysomething former musician, Quinn, dealing with the traumas of her past. Quinn’s perspective is fractured and unforgettable; you’ll never see iPod headphones, among other things, the same way again." —WORD Books Blog
"In the classic sense of the term, The Listeners is gut-wrenching in that it’s the story of a life haunted by adolescent trauma, of dreams cut brutally short—a story that involves a betrayal, an eating disorder and a stray bullet. But “gut-wrenching” is also the fittest way to describe Leni Zumas’s debut novel because she wants to wrench your gut, as literally as a gut can be wrenched. Sometimes gory and thoroughly stunning,The Listeners is a book concerned with the fraught relationship between psyche and flesh.
"Once a rising punk rock star with the promise of a major record deal, Quinn is in her mid-30s, broke and languishing in obscurity. Her life is defined by two tragedies: the roadside disaster that destroyed her deepest friendship and her career, and the violent death of her younger sister 20 years before. Bodily intact but profoundly traumatized, she can no longer listen to music, and she marks her days with shifts at a failing bookstore, smoke breaks and obligatory dinners with her parents and brother. Raw descriptions of her perception of food puncture these forcedly cheerful dinner scenes; Quinn, who discovered her sister’s body while their mother’s pancakes smoldered on the stove, sees blood in every meal.
"Like her lost sister, Quinn also has synesthesia—food and music not only mark her various traumas but send her into intense sensory overload. This is torture for Quinn, but gives Zumas the opportunity for wildly inventive descriptions. “My melodies were blue or silver or bruise,” she remembers of her color-directed performances. “Like runny fabric they bled behind my eyes.” Others are more subtle, like when Quinn poignantly remembers her sister’s aptitude for smelling “on a book the reaction of the last person to read it.”
"Throughout, Zumas mixes up language like Quinn mixes up senses, and the effect is sublime. Quinn observes “spruce girls with calamity cuts” and describes two other characters “chattering like teeth in love.” She classifies herself as “the boyest” among her siblings, and remembers playing to a crowd “bred in the suburbs but wild to catch a plague of streets.”
"The energy of these phrases lend a vital spark to the story as Quinn weaves dizzily between past and present. There’s a twisted sort of hope in there, too, among the pain and loss. But should you pick up The Listeners (and you should!), expect both a wrenched gut and a rent heart." —Shelf Awareness
"Zumas’ debut novel reads a bit like Faulkner. Fractured imagery, shifts in time and place, and a motley crew of characters—Fod, Quinn, Geck, and Cam, to name a few—lead the reader through a patchwork map of the marred childhood and failed adulthood of Quinn, a thirtysomething washed-up musician with a drinking problem. A former anorexic and adolescent “cutter,” Quinn is smart, witty, and filled with obsession and anxiety over the events of her sister’s death and its aftermath. Zumas plays with narrative conventions here, peppering the text with short chapters that are at times ethereal and disjointed but often tinged with humor. Readers looking for gritty experimental fiction in the manner of the late Gilbert Sorrentino will find The Listeners whetting their appetites for more from this promising new author. " —Booklist
"Zumas’s debut novel comes at the reader in over a hundred self-contained, lucid pieces: a visit to a doctor in which Quinn, the teenage narrator, is ominously evasive about her weight loss; siblings bantering around the dinner table in a free fall of time; a dream of octopi, creatures that become a motif, much like John Irving’s bear. Even happy memories have a melancholy undertone because Quinn is grieving the death of her sister, who is also revealed in fragments (“She became a woman three months before she died”). Of siblings Fod, Mert, and Riley, Riley is the most three-dimensional and the closest to Quinn. Zumas’s tone is crisply naturalistic, slightly off center, and downright surreal, sometimes all at once, though often starting as one and drifting into another. The novel’s tantalizing form approximates Quinn’s mental and emotional state; she isn’t in the traditional fog of grief, she’s hyper-observant and arch: “The pong of cheap meat and fry oil hung on the air,” and “From the subway I climbed to a street ateem with suited normals and walking-homers….” For all this, plot threads are mostly explicable, creating a compelling build-it-yourself tapestry of cherished memories and open wounds." —Publishers Weekly