San Anselmo, CA, United States
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.
The above is a quote from Robert B. Parker, a guy who should know. I am now in the process of reading all of Mr. Perry's novels, and I am sad to say that there are only a couple left. The man is remarkable, and again, Michael Kramer is the perfect voice for these amazing books. Mr. Perry is the opposite of formulaic. His creativity and inventiveness seem to know no bounds. This book starts with a killing, and takes almost the whole book to solve it. Through the book we get to know a number of people who are so much flesh and blood that we might actually know them in real life. The villains, however, are so scary that we are glad not to know them. Each time I listen to one of these, I just can't imagine how Mr. Perry is going to top this one, and yet, he does. At times here the suspense is literally unbearable. The plot quickens to the point where I had to put it down to make it last longer, if you understand. I was tempted to just sit and listen to the whole thing, but summoned up enough will power to let it be. Once again Mr. Perry writes with wit that is sometimes understated and sometimes just hilarious. He skewers a rich man who is also a monster, and also his sycophantic wife, and their lives of sheltered unreality. This man hires a killer to stalk the wife of the detective who dies at the beginning, and the contest between the two of them is a war of wills and wits. Emily is another extremely well drawn woman, something which Mr. Perry does easily while other male writers struggle with their inability to write nothing but cardboard women. At first I thought that The Butcher's Boy could not be topped. Now I know that Mr. Perry's talents are truly limitless. Enjoy yourselves. Mr. Perry cannot be beat.
Robert B. Parker was one of this country's most prolific authors, in league with Elmore Leonard. Like Leonard, he simply wanted to entertain us, and he succeeded almost every time out. Likewise, Michael Prichard was an amazingly prolific performer (and may still be). And Joe Mantegna is also an incredibly prolific and likable actor and narrator. Choosing between these two narrators is like trying to choose between the best apple pie and the best peach pie: very hard to do. In Sixkill, Parker again puts Spenser in his usual slot: a very tough guy on the outside with a very tender inside. The dialogue is, as always, witty and brief. You start chuckling right out of the gate. Mantegna seems to have a little more trouble with the repetitive "he said, she said" stuff than Prichard. I seem to notice that less when hearing Prichard. Mantegna, OTOH, is a face many of us know from movies and TV, and his voice is that of a friendly guy who might live next door to you, who happens to be one of the best storytellers anywhere. The plot of Sixkill is really just an excuse for Spenser to act, to play the tough guy when he wants to and the tender lover of Susan Silverman when he needs to. Not that the plot is trifling: it is clever and tugs at your heartstrings, in some ways. Sixkill is a huge Indian who once played great football, but then fell down a terrible slide. Spenser takes him on as a project, and between Spenser and the talk-about-tough-but-silent Hawk, they reclaim Sixkill in a way that is very humane and caring. Parker was a genius. Both Prichard and Mantegna make him sound wonderful. I have only tried to listen to one book narrated by David Dukes, and I hated it. Sit down with Parker and have a great time.
This is Mr. Perry's first book, originally published in 1982. Although it's a little dated (a full gas tank, 12 gallons, for $10!) that is the only flaw I can find. Michael Connelly, one heck of a writer himself, has written an introduction to the book, which accurately describes Perry's awesome talent and assuredness. Connelly uses the word "velocity" as a description of plots that delight us, and this is the perfect word for Perry's plot. There are only two main characters, the unnamed professional hitman, and the Justice Department agent Elizabeth Weiser, plus many other characters. Perry cleverly alternates chapters between these two characters to hold our interest, and this is a very successful suspense device. The book flies by. The hitman takes on the Las Vegas mafia families single-handedly, and you believe that he can manage it. He is no non-human superhero, though. He is believable in every way. Likewise, Elizabeth is also a real human being, in the field reluctantly for the first time, and simultaneously doubtful and self-confident. You just have to read Perry's work to see how smoothly he creates these characters. He also sees Las Vegas as what it is, or was thirty years ago. The narration is flawless. Mr. Kramer understands the writer, and has narrated all of Mr. Perry's books. He is fluid and entertaining. He builds the suspense for us. You can never guess the plot's twists and turns. You will at one moment fully suspect that someone with a gun will sneak in the door, and then Mr. Perry surprises you. Even Elizabeth is surprised and hoodwinked. This is a terrific book, and I am sure that I will eventually listen to all of Mr. Perry's books. Great entertainment!
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