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    An Excerpt from First Consonants, About the Life of a Stutterer

    By Michele Karlsberg–

    Michele Karlsberg: John Whittier Treat writes: “Everyone stutters occasionally, but only a few of us are stutterers. And those of us who are stutterers don’t always stutter, just as the rest of you don’t always speak perfectly. We all stammer confessing love, but never do if crying out in pain. The well-meaning compliment, ‘But you’re not stuttering now,’ is as hurtful as it is unknowing. A stutterer is always a stutterer, even when silent.”

    In Treat’s second novel, First Consonants, we find Brian. an unremarkable child, until he isn’t. As other children start to babble, adding to their vocabularies day by day, Brian grows quieter with age, stumbling over the words he needs to lead a normal life: He is a stutterer.

    Stuttering defines his formative years, filled with prejudice and bullying, as he creates his own scales of right and wrong, both justified and unjustified. He uses his fists whenever words fail him. As he increasingly fills with rage after life-changing abuse at the hands of a priest who takes advantage of his vulnerability, he resorts to ever greater acts of violence, risking everything he has worked hard for in life. Brian’s one hope for his redemption? Alaska. An elderly Brian moves to the Alaskan outback, and here he attempts to redeem himself and the world.

    Please enjoy an excerpt from First Consonants:

    Brian found a book at the town library with the longest title he’d ever come across: The Cause and Cure of Speech Disorders: A Text Book for Students and Teachers on Stuttering, Stammering and Voice Conditions. He looked at the inside back cover and saw the book had been checked out many times.        

    This was not his first trip to the library. He’d gone before, sometimes to look at the drawings of women’s bodies in the anatomy textbooks, sometimes to see if there were new things about stuttering. He wouldn’t ask either of the librarians for help in locating any books. Brian wandered around pretending to be interested in other things until he found them. He stumbled upon things by browsing. He’d take a book or two off the shelf and scurry to the chairs in the back of the stacks. He’d thumb through them there. 

    He checked the card in the back of the book again. Someone must have just returned The Cause and Cure of Speech Disorders. He flipped through it and found that someone had underlined passages, sometimes in pencil, sometimes in pen. 

    “Our experience indicates that stuttering children, to begin with, are the victims of sensitive, impressionable, high-strung, excitable, or emotional temperaments.” I guess that means me, though no one ever said it like that. “Stuttering never had its right place in history, in practice, in science or thought, but was always considered rather a mannerism, like wearing one’s hat at an angle.”I don’t wear hats.”It was not considered in its true light as a prominent symptom of an emotionally unstable nervous individual, and prominent symptoms are not lightly brushed away.”Unstable? Maybe. “Why does the stutterer have such dreams of being a hero?” I never dream of being a hero.

    He closed the book when one of the librarians walked by, and reopened it when he was alone again. 

    “The stutterer’s handicap and circumscribed experience often lead him to harbor animosity toward others, because he feels deep down in his mind that he cannot meet them on equal terms in friendly competition.”

    Is that why I get into fights? 

    “But neither can he cope with them in active battle on equal terms, so the animosity is suppressed, the whole process frequently taking place in the subconscious mind.”

    Brian felt a familiar anger. Before throwing the book onto the library floor and walking out, he read the line: “The stutterer’s sacrifice is his salvation.” The experts had their idea of what sacrifice and salvation meant. Brian had his own take. He would do terrible things until the balance of the world, with him at its center, fit his own understanding of right versus wrong.

    John Whittier Treat is Emeritus Professor at Yale University and the author of two novels: “The Rise and Fall of the Yellow House” (Big Table Publishing, 2015) and “First Consonants” (Jaded Ibis Press, 2022).

    Michele Karlsberg Marketing and Management specializes in publicity for the LGBTQ+ community. This year, Karlsberg celebrates 33 years of successful marketing campaigns. For more information:

    Published on September 22, 2022