I really like Richard Russo and, while this book is not as good as "Nobody's Fool" or "Empire Falls", it's recognizably Russo and very satisfying.
Russo takes a long time to develop his characters - that's part of his style and charm. If you're not willing to be patient and let the story unfold, then you probably won't like this book (or any of his other ones).
That said, this book struck me almost like "Russo Abridged". There were some time and character jumps that, in previous books, would have been explored in much more detail. The other books were all at least twice as long, and the difference shows.
Even without the normal depth of character development, I liked these characters, cared what happened to them, and didn't want the book to end.
While it's not the best Russo book ever, I found it enjoyable and extremely easy to slip back into Russo's world and way of writing. Also, it's narrated well, which always helps. I recommend it, particularly if you've read and enjoyed any of his other books.
This book requires time and patience, but it rewards both. I struggled initially to settle into the pace and let it unfold as it wished, but once I did, I enjoyed it quite a bit.
The narrator was excellent - very clear, wonderful use of pauses, well paced.
My only complaint is that it was hard to learn the Russian names of the characters, many of whom have two different names. I often had to guess which character was whom based on how the narrator acted that character - so it helped to have a very good narrator.
Ultimately, I'm glad I invested the time in the book, though I almost gave up at the beginning.
This is the first time I wish I had bought an abridged version of a book. Garrels' experience leading up to the Iraq war is very interesting, and during that period I listened to her NPR reporting on a regular basis. I knew what to expect from her and was not disappointed in the way she told the story or her narration. In fact, I found the additional background information in the book to be fascinating.
The book goes back and forth between Garrels' story and her husband Vint's (sp?) take on same (about an 85/15% split). Midway through I was about ready to shoot Vint. Many of his "Brenda Bulletins" were repetitions of things we'd just heard Garrels talk about, but told at about 1/4 speed. While there were some interesting nuggets in the Bulletins, in general I thought they destroyed the pace of the book, and I came to dread them. I even fast-forwarded past a couple of them (something I hate doing).
Things got better by the end - even the Brenda Bulletins became more interesting. It's eerie to listen to the book and then listen to the Iraq reporting today (often by Garrels), because Garrels correctly predicts many of the situations we are facing in Iraq today.
Overall, I'm glad I listened to the book, and found it to be as relevant today as it was a year ago. I just wish a decent editor had cut out about 20% of the material - it would have made for a much better read.
Wonderful book and story, with the best narrator I've ever heard. The story takes its time unwinding, with past and present scenes interspersed liberally. Don't get this book if you want a quick, uncomplicated, straightforward plot. But if you have the time, like good character development and enjoy a great story, then I highly recommend this book.
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