My review of Shiver must begin with a disclaimer. I read only the first few lines of the summary before buying it. As a result, it wasn't until I was about 20% through it that I realized, to my dismay, that I was trapped in a ROMANCE NOVEL. However, I didn't stop listening and what follows are my reason/s why.
From the outset, Karen Robards does a skilled job of writing a piece of pulp fiction. The story sets its course solidly; twenty-three year old single mom, devoted to her child, mature beyond her years, works third shift driving a tow truck, repoing cars to support her child. The setting is the seamier side of East St. Louis, and the streets are mean streets. Sam is fearless and resourceful until the night she picks a late job. Easy enough, its a BMW and prime for the picking. UNtil the trunk pops open and inside is a guy, wounded and beaten. In the brief moment that Sam hesitates, the same hit man who plopped this guy in the trunk now adds Sam to his haul. Just like that, Sam and Danny are thrust together -no pun intended of course- and off goes the story.
I think what kept me going from this point on was the fact that each time the reader feels a romantic moment coming on -Sam oogling Danny's butt or muscles, or what not- the story explodes into some wild act of violence. A particularly taut scene is when Danny, on Sam's phone, listens to the torture of her son's babysitter by the cartel hitmen. In fact, the novel goes on like that until the conclusion.
The performance is also really excellent. The reader expertly captures the attitude, the savvy, of Sam's character. Never mind the proposterous storyline; Danny is not a former federal agent who went over to the cartel and has become a protected witness to save his butt. No, he is actually an FBI special agent pretending to be a protected witness while the real witness is providing the FBI with testimony. Its all a weird melodrama and romance that works because the author, helped immensely by the reader, has a flair and a sense of how pulp fiction (the style, not the film) works and uses that with a skilled hand.
I think having finished listening to Shiver, my only question for the author is who she and the publisher planned to market this to. Fans of Jack Reacher will turn this off about a third of the way through, though they shouldn't, and fans of romance are going to be a little unnerved by the level of violence. Actually, this story has its best chance when someone buys the option for the film. Can't miss. So, give it a chance, like me, you may not be able to turn it off.
I almost stopped this one because I found the performance unsatisfying. However, stick it out past chapter one and what unfolds is a wild story about an apartment building that is the stopgap between our world and a completely "other" world that if unleashed, would devour our own.
It is a wholly unbelievable premise, but the characters -the residents of this L.A. apartment building- and their crusade to save the world is engaging stuff. If you are a fan of H.P. Lovecraft and filmmaker David Cronenberg, you will really appreciate this.
Forget the performance, that will be easy to do by chapter two, let yourself go and join the characters in their quest to save the world.
Even before one begins this excellent performance of Max Brooks unique take on Zombie Fiction, it becomes apparent that Workd War Z is not like other Zombie novels. Most zombie fiction is by nature self reflective, alludes to other zombie novels or plays with the conventional elements of the genre as a whole.
Max Brook's novel broadens the scope of these novels. Brook's assumes we know the genre. What he does is sets out to suggest how it might impact the world as we know it. The world of Brook's Z-novel is a world we recognize; humanitarians trying to make it a better place to live, soldiers fighting for a cause, politicians trying to stablize faultering nations.Its as if the reader is listening to modern politicians and public figures discuss terrorism or world hunger.
The idea of a narrative that is built on interviews that look back on the Zombie, not quite apocalypse, is quite frankly brilliant. The audio version with understated, subtle performances by the likes of Alan Alda, John Torturro, and Rob Reiner, give the story credibility, authenticity.
I read the novel before I listened to it. Much more engaging as a performance piece I thought. The performances distinguish characters in a way that reading did not for me. The performance covers all the bases and in this performance and even though it deals with the aftermath of the undead invasion, "Z" is still for Zombie.
Having read both of Bacigalupi's two previous novels, The Wind-up Girl and Ship Breaker, the audio version does an outstanding job of capturing the nuance of extremely complex characters. Tool, the genetically engineered half-man mercenary, becomes holy unforgettable. The reading also deftly captures both the Dickensian tragic elements and the modern heroic stoicism of the novels feminine protagonist. I would venture to say that not since Katniss in the Hunger Games trilogy has a heroine breathed such life into a novel.
For the first-time readers of Bacigalupi's work I would say that there is sometimes a putting-off darkness, a constant impending doom that lays like an ever blossoming storm cloud over the novel. The torture sequence near the novels conclusion is heartrending for example. But the characters emerge better stronger than before. In the work of Bacigalupi the characters are not redeemed because it makes the reader feel good, this redemption is not a narrative device, but rather the characters have earned redemption and we feel that is so to our core as readers.
Not to be forgotten when discussing the work of Bacigalupi and this fine audio version in particular are the settings of his novels and the contemporary environmental questions in which they take root. In Drowned Cities, as predicted, the planet has warmed, super storms have rocked the planet, and the water level in most cities has reached the level of the third story of buildings. Busy urban streets have become canals choked with debris and waste. This is also captured with the appropriate solemnity in the audio version.
It must be said, Drowned Cities from start to finish keeps its head above water and with a deft stroke finishes with a mix of tragedy, resolve, and uplifting victory.
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