The Murder was debated in the media, and different theories were espoused in print and on the radio and on morning chat shows. Experts were brought in to explain, condemn, justify Alicia’s actions. She must have been a victim of domestic abuse, surely, pushed too far before finally exploding? [...]Some suspected it was old-fashioned jealousy that drove Alicia to murder— another woman, probably?

The murder of Gabriel Berenson sparks a media circus, as journalists clamor to provide explanations to a curious public. Violence, the novel suggests, makes good business for the media, both respectable news platforms and sleazy tabloids alike. While the shocking violence of Gabriel’s murder attracts media attention, it is Alicia’s firm silence that truly captures the attention of the public. Because Alicia does not explain herself, “experts” attempt to fill the silence with easy though unconvincing answers, alternatively attempting to “explain” her actions, to “condemn” her, or even to “justify” the murder. Her supporters argue that she must have been abused by Gabriel, and that she finally snapped as a result of his long-term mistreatment. Conversely, her detractors accuse her of “old-fashioned jealousy,” imagining that she shot Gabriel after finding out that he has been conducting an adulterous affair with another woman. Whether the experts imagine her as a sympathetic victim of domestic violence or a jealous “madwoman,” these attempts to “solve” the mystery of Alicia’s silence rely on over-simplified and gendered stereotypes.  

I was one of the lucky ones. Thanks to a successful therapeutic intervention at a young age, I was able to pull back from the brink of psychic darkness. In my mind, however, the other narrative remained forever a possibility: I might have gone crazy and ended my days locked in an institution, like Alicia.

Theo’s practice of psychotherapy is deeply informed by his own status as a patient. He credits the therapeutic intervention of Ruth with saving him from a life of mental illness, stating that he was on the “brink” of a “psychic darkness” from which there could be no recovery. His idolization of Ruth and his strong faith in the benefits of therapy motivate him to study to become a therapist. When he sees Alicia in The Grove, heavily medicated, drooling, and unresponsive to external stimuli, he reflects upon the mental illness that they both share and the very different outcomes that they have experienced. Without Ruth, he believes, he might easily have ended up like Alicia, committing a violent crime and ending up “locked in an institution,” as Alicia is. Later events in the novel, however, undermine Theo’s faith in Ruth’s intervention, and in his recovery. Theo in fact continues to struggle deeply with mental illness, though this fact is concealed by this manipulative and unreliable narration. Further, Theo’s expressions of concern and sympathy for Alicia are similarly contradicted by his own manipulative, possessive, and paternalistic motivations for serving as her therapist.  

I wasn’t making progress in any direction, it seemed. Perhaps it was all hopeless. Christian had been right to point out that rats desert sinking ships. What the hell was I doing clambering upon this wreck, lashing myself to the past, preparing to drown?  


The answer was sitting right in front of me. As Diomedes put it, Alicia was a silent siren, luring me to my doom.

At an early point in his attempts to treat her as her psychotherapist, Theo reflects despondently upon his apparent lack of success in “reaching” Alicia through her cloudy mental state. She has, at this point in the narrative, not responded to Theo’s attempts to get her to speak. In fact, she has shown almost no response to him at all, either verbally or nonverbally. Theo, who left a better job at Broadmoor in order to work with Alicia at the poorly funded facility where she has been institutionalized, wonders if he has made a mistake. Christian, a therapist who used to work with Theo at Broadmoor, registers his surprise that Theo would transfer to The Grove, as the facility’s future is highly uncertain due to budgetary restraints. Feeling pessimistic about his chances of making a breakthrough with Alicia, Theo considers the possibility that he has made a regrettable decision. However, when he sees Alicia, he remembers what drew him to The Grove. Previously, Diomedes compared Alicia to a “siren,” a figure from mythology whose beautiful singing voice tricks men into crashing their ships upon perilous rocks. Alicia, in Diomedes’ words, is a “silent siren,” who lures men not with singing but through her mysterious silence.