Edwidge Danticat has taken several disparate elements--stories from various times and set in various places--and baked a delicious cake with them. Each chapter is a short story in itself, but they are all brought together by the person of the "dew breaker:" a man whose job it was to come in the early morning hours to drag people away for torture and killing under the Duvalier regimes in Haiti. Not knowing until the end how each story relates to the others adds to the tension of this well-written story.
The icing on the cake, though, is the reading, which incorporates Creole, French, American-Creole and American inner-city Ebonics (sometimes more than one of these are heard in the same conversation) to deliver a far better reading than I could have supplied for myself.
What could have been a fascinating book is just plain drudgery in large sections, mainly because there's not much to work with here except the author's imagination. Ordinarily that would be enough, of course, but in this case, the Eric Larson attempts more than a work of fiction and therefore fails.
Where there are hard historical records to go on, namely, the creation of the Chicago "Columbian Exposition" in 1893, they are dry facts, indeed. Whole chapters are devoted to obtaining permission to build, the politics of obtaining permission, and the private lives of otherwise uninteresting and tangential characters. The best Larson can offer here is some interesting name-dropping, but there are no huge names to make you rush to listen to this book.
The facts are skinniest when Larson tries to describe the nefarious activities of Henry Holmes, Chicago's own Jack the Ripper. This would have been interesting if it weren't for the fact that Larson has to make up most of the dialog, events and even actual facts about which he writes, because Holmes didn't leave any eye witnesses.
Larson would have been better off to write a "based on true events" TV crime drama.
Eventide shines even more brightly than Plainsong, Kent Haruf's previous book about many of the same characters in fictional Holt, Colorado. Haruf makes you laugh, makes you cry (sometimes both at the same time), and you always shake your head in bemusement at the human foibles his carefully actualized characters demonstrate so perfectly. The reading of this book by George Hearn is just perfect; you will think he IS Kent Haruf, or maybe Raymond McPheron. Hearn supplies the right tone, inflection and characterization to put the reader IN Holt in a way that most readers can't do for themselves.
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