Funny - or maybe not funny - but promising American writers like Dan Chaon tend to define literary realism as 'devoid of any human feelings aside from deep morbid depression.' Sure, it's well written, but each character that is introduced in Await Your Reply is less interesting and more dislikable than the last. There isn't a grain of humor in this book. If that is realism, let's have some fantasy.
Among America's aging literary royalty, Philip Roth seems to be the most reliable at delivering great stories. Unlike - say - John Irving, Roth is able to parse his world and tell one tightly focused narrative full of characters that are likable - a seemingly small trick but one that makes all the difference in a reader's or listener's enjoyment of the story. In this respect Roth has taken over for Updike.
This isn't a happy story, but it is not full of unhappy people trudging along to the end. Instead, Nemesis paints a picture of how - even in the worst of circumstances where disease and war are the new normal - people deal with life with dignity and bravery.
The character development in White Horse is so sparse that If it were not for this books almost complete lack of meaningful action I might have thought it was a comic book converted to audio. It's possible I'm not the only one who feels that way since someone (the publisher?) felt it necessary to add the preface "A Novel" to the title.
It contains the ingredients that the genre requires: If you're looking for zombies - they're here but they are boring. If you are looking for apocalypse - it's there but it's cause is mundane (Mad-man-made pandemic? Come on.) and it's outcome is only crudely sketched.
And it's also left out what the genre demands be left out else the author fall into a vast logic hole - so no explanation of the why the diseased exist just fine while the living can't fine enough to eat.
I'll also mention that there were some distinctly unpleasant scenes whose brutality added absolutely nothing to the plot. And, since it was impossible to care about any of the characters, these grotesque passages seemed to be less about moving the action forward and more about giving a sharp poke in the eye (so to speak) to the listener.
If you want a great atmospheric novel about a circus - try 'Water for Elephants.' If you want a story about magic there's Harry Potter. But if you're looking for a messy and strangely boring combination of those rolled up with hints of Roald Dahl and some unfortunate similarity to Susanna Clarke's 'Johathan Strange and Mr. Norrell' then this is your book. It's certainly more mash-up than original novel.
And one other observation: Jim Dale's performance in the Harry Potter audio books was excellent, but he is the wrong reader here. I believe that in a conscious effort not to reuse HP voices he ended up with a set of voices that were both uninteresting and too similar to each other. And in any case. I think 'The Night Circus' might have benefited from a female reader.
It's a bit silly to state that a book about zombies in Pride and Prejudice didn't make sense - but sadly that is the case. I'm not talking about the obvious zombie issues (like why they don't die if they don't eat, why do they only decompose a little and not the whole way, etc.). I'm all for the willing suspension of disbelief - and zombie lit in general - but the grafted on bits about fighting the un-dead didn't follow logic. One example: Eliza Bennett is well known as one of the great zombie fighters - but Lady Catherine keeps assuming her ninjas (yes, ninjas) will kill her easily. Really - this is too ridiculous to go on. Suffice it to say, the fact that zombies were grafted on to the unaltered original text instead of this being a newly written book with the same plot lead to many unsatisfying holes in the narrative.
Your Medical Mind was more case-study oriented and less edu-tainment than some books of it's kind. But, while not a fun listen/read, it did cover an array of medical problems which someone might face. The theory at work here seems to be that if you use this book to explore your medical preferences before you or a loved one is sick, you will be able to make decisions more rationally when/if that time comes. Logic says that thinking about these things before hand should help most people however with all of the symptoms and ailments the authors describe in detail I would warn people off this book who know themselves to be hypochondriacs.
Rumpole at Christmas isn't great literature - it's definitely on the lighter side of fiction. But it's easy to become tired of humorless and bleakly-introspective stories that have unfortunately become the norm in short fiction. So it is nice (especially around the holidays) to tuck in to this collection of crisp, funny and, if predictable - at least comfortably so - short stories.
One note on the production: The sound (at least on my copy) was muddier and harder to hear than I would have expected. I wonder if Audible could fix this. In any case, it's probably best listened to in the highest format your device will support.
Like many other listeners, I took a chance on this book because of Stephenson's earlier and massively entertaining work "Snow Crash."
But in "Anathem" Stephenson seemed to embrace form and novelty and as you listen to this book you can feel what the author was going for: he invented a new vocabulary and used it to flesh out his poly-universe string theory-ish philosophy - with the thought - perhaps - that the book would transcend predictive or fantasy fiction leading future generations of big IQ uber fan boys to speak in Orth the way some might now use Kligon or Elvish or Jawaese.
But Stephenson did this all at the cost of plot and character. Honestly it's as though a truly great philosophy professor got together with a community college creative writing freshman and said "I'll handle the tough thinking, you take care of the plot."
It's not all bad. There were some really nice devices and reversals (the best of which is monk-like existence is reserved for those who have completely abandoned faith). And the plot wasn't completely vacuous - but there were hours (literally) of what seemed to be incredibly opaque fluff. When I reached the end of a diatribe I felt ripped off because it was as inconsequential as it was impenetrable.
The performance was good overall, but there was a flaw that could have been easily fixed. If you choose to listen to "Anathem" get used to this phrase: "The Dictionary, 4th Edition, A.R 3000" because it is spoken after every single definition that is given. And there are a lot of definitions. Ah - but remember that we are listeners and not readers so what we really need after a long definition of a word we've never heard before is the word again so we can remember it without having to hit rewind. As it stands, we get the obscure word, then a long multi-part definition and then when we've forgotten what was being defined instead of having the word repeated, we get the wildly unhelpful and meaningless dictionary edition information. Why? You might think that this was just the producer being faithful to the work but since Neil Stephenson was one of the readers it seems he could have corrected this during production.
The author managed to turn steam-punk zombies, zeppelin fights and walled-off poison gas filled cities into a book that was just plain boring. Like the un-dead that populate it, the plot just runs on inertia with no spark of life.
And that's too bad because the basic elements were promising. But Cherie Priest squandered the nice setup and wrote a story which you've read many times before: two people try to find each other in a hostile land but - dang it all - they keep running into obstacles while all the time being chased by various bad guys and firing weapons.
This humorless and predictable mill and chase goes on for a long time but In the end nothing of interest is really answered. And that's too bad because there were intriguing questions that could have been explored if only the author had pumped a little more life into her book about the dead.
If I could remember who recommended this book to me I'd sock them in the eye - or more likely write them a nasty email.
But to be fair - had I been looking for a reference source for cliches this would have been a great find. And Johathan Tropper did write convincingly in the voice of a high school boy - but anyone who's read the fiction writing of high school students might question if that is a good thing.
And the whole meta-thing was set at full volume: a writer writing about a writer who was remembering what he wrote while writing a new book? Young aspiring writers of America hear my plea: Stop Writing About Writing.
I'm a big OSC fan but this didn't seem as well written or involving as his other work. I'm sure many will find this uplifting, but I found it vaguely depressing.
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