63 y/o psychologist with two sons, living in SF Bay Area. I absolutely love all the feedback I've been getting for my reviews. It's very gratifying. Thanks to all of you.
Clearly I had never heard of Tonino Benacquista before. I have, however, become something of a student of Edoardo Balerini. I would be the president of his fan club, were he to have one. The man has engaged and entertained me in a way which beggars description. This book is the story of an Italian gangster and his family, who go into the Witness Protection Program (WITSEC) after he testifies against his former colleagues. The family ends up in a small town in Normandy, the name of which I swear to you sounds something like Schlong-sur-Mer. The gangster takes the name of Fred Baker, and tries to convince an entire town bristling with French gossips that he is a writer, engaged in some magnum opus mysterioso. His wife and chldren are dragged most unhappily into this fiasco. It is torture for them to keep the lie going, but of course it is essential that they pull it off, as unspeakable deaths await them if they fail. Mr. Baker's real name is Giovanni Menzano, I believe. The wife and kids have to invent names and full identities for themselves. They have one so-called friend, who is their supervisor in the WITSEC program, a man named Tom Quintiliani. (Please forgive me if I am messing up these names: it is very hard to memorize names when you are laughing out loud at the story, and at the exquisite predicament this family is in.)
Edoardo Balerini has now reached a pinnacle (in my mind) which no other living narrator has ever come close to. It's not just that he's Italian; you can hear the pronunciation of his own name sound more Italian with each book. Since the book is set in France, Mr. Balerini must master a large variety of French accents and individual speech proclivities. You just cannot imagine how funny this is until you hear it. It is easy for Americans to make fun of the French, for reasons which have little to do with this book in particular (they are, though, so ENTIRELY full of themselves): please stop me now before I become quite tasteless. The plot ambles around in a good-natured sort of way. I actually got lost, as I was reading about four other books at the same time, and I discovered that it was a complete pleasure to start this book from the very beginning again. I realized that some of the jokes had just filtered through my cortex without being stored in memory (a fancy and preposterous way of saying that I forgot them), and so each was funny anew. This one is a winner. I hope Mr. Benacquisto has more up his sleeve. From the sounds of Mr. Balerini's voices I would guess him to be in his forties: how very, very lucky for us.
John Sayles wrote this book in 1977. For those of you who remember, he was a major figure on the political left in the 70s. He made several movies and wrote in several media. Union Dues is a story about a father and son. They live in the beginning in a small town in West Virginia, where the only industry at the time was coal mining. The setting was the time when unions were just getting involved, when black lung disease was first being recognized as the peril that we now know it to be. Hunter, the father, has two sons. The older, Darwin, joins the army and goes to Viet Nam. He comes back a "changed man." The younger son, Hobie, is the focus of the book. Hobie runs away from home and ends up in Boston, where he thinks his brother will be. Dar has left for Vermont, having essentially dropped out of society. The bulk of the story revolves around Hobie's activity in a political commune, and Hunt's attempt to find his son. Sayles's politics are long-winded and "leftie" in what now seems like a distant and very troubled time in this country. The book makes me think about what has happened during those past forty years. Both Hobie and Hunt live in poverty, and never truly find any work. The commune in which Hobie lives is full of windy, intellectual "radicals" who fight naive battles against overwhelming odds. However, it was these people, collectively, who pushed the country to pull out of Viet Nam, and who also pushed LBJ not to seek re-election. These events are not in the narration, but certainly inform the plot in a very dramatic fashion.
Edoardo Balerini has quickly become my favorite narrator, by some distance. If you have listened to Beautiful Ruins, you have heard his voice at its best. The Italian language just rolls off his tongue in a mellifluous, gorgeous way. In Union Dues he shows us that his range is much wider than simply Italian. He gives us wonderful dialects of English going from the hill country of West Virginia to the multiple mini-populations of Boston. There are so many voices here that I couldn't keep track of all of them, although I wouldn't try to do that, as it would have distracted me from Balerini's performance. The story wanders around, particularly in the second half, particularly where the factions of the commune argue wildly about the philosophical implications of the dialectic, etc. etc. Some of this is meant to show us that there was a lot of talk during the Viet Nam period, even though there was a lot of action, too, some of it ugly and violent. Listening to this book has gotten me to rent the DVD of Sayles's Eight Men Out, the story of the Black Sox scandal. Sayles also made a movie called Matewan, about the mines and the miners, the unions and the corporate fat cats. I am drawn to Sayles's writing, but I am magnetically drawn to Balerini's narrations. He is a masterful performer. I just can't imagine your not enjoying his amazing talents.
If you only read one book by Michael Chabon, this should be it. And, fortunately, David Colacci reads it, with his typical skill and verve. The book might be called over-written. Many of Chabon's books are like that. The story, however, is a remarkable one. Josef Kavalier escapes from Prague to eventually land in New York City during the early 1940s. He is welcomed by his cousin, Sam Klay, and the two young men rise to the very top of the world of comic books. Their hero, the Escapist, is a superman-like hero who is always escaping from Nazi-like traps and then returning to beat the Nazi-like guys to bloody pulps. The story of the personal lives of Kavalier and Klay is told in great detail. The book is extremely carefully researched. The ambience of New York City during this period is lovingly recreated by Chabon. There are a number of remarkable scenes. Kavalier has studied the great Houdini (whose real name was Erich Weiss) and has become an escape artist himself. He is also a magician and a clever entertainer. The book goes on perhaps too long, but if you are truly entertained, then Chabon and Colacci have done yeoman's work. The scenes of Kavalier's stretch in the Navy at a base in Antarctica are particularly memorable and heroic. Chabon's writing style is an acquired taste for many, but this is exactly the sort of thing for those who like this sort of thing.
Ardent Audible listener with a long commute!
On March 18, 1990, two thieves broke into the The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, and stole thirteen work of art, including five works by Edgar Degas - four drawings and a painting. This book imagines the trajectory of the painting, described as one in Degas' Bathers series. [The painting taken from the Gardner was not in the Bathers series.]
Claire Roth is a professional art forger, and works for the fictional reproductions. Her specialty is Degas, although she can copy other masters and genres. Claire is an artist in her own right, but she has been a pariah in the art community for three years. The reason she has been cast out is a key part of the story.
Claire is aproached by art gallery owner Adrien Markel to make a reproduction of the stolen Degas painting, and Markel promises her a one woman show in exchange.
Edward Degas, Isabella Stewart Gardner, and Gardner's great grand niece are key players.
I would listen to the narrator of this book, X.E. Sands, read a grocery list. She is just that good, and she was an ideal choice to narrate this book.
I found that the plot, although definitely a tangled web, was predictable in the last third or so. I would have liked to have known more about Gardner herself, and I hope B.A. Shapiro writes more about her, either fiction or non-fiction.
This is B.A. Shapiro's first novel. It's made several best seller lists, and is an Indie Book Dealer Best of 2012. I learned more about oil painting than I ever expected to know - or even thought I'd be interested in. The book isn't teachy, but I learned a lot.
[If you found this review helpful, please let me know by pressing the 'helpful ' button.]