Before downloading Audible's New Yorker sampler, I hadn't actively read the magazine in decades. Oh what I've been missing! The literature, the commentary, the reviews... all so splendidly intelligent and insightful. And all so downright entertaining!
In the editions I've downloaded, I've found the selections to be excellent. I feel as though they're the perfect blend of varied content and tone. The narration is equally laudable. Our reader's voice is pleasant, friendly and clear, with just the right amount of inflection and emphasis to bring the writing to life without intruding upon it.
I've been devouring Fresh Air interviews for almost two years, aside from my audio book downloads and the ever-entertaining "Says You" from NPR. The New Yorker is a great addition to my Audible listening!
I'm very much enjoying Gary Shteyngart's Absurdistan. The writing is excellent; bone-dry irony is in abundance and our fatuous (and fat) 1st person narrator illuminates both himself and his world with his gritty descriptions of life inside and outside his natrive Russia. This story of the son of a post-Soviet gangster is both a real hoot and a melancholy lament; the gales of internal (and sometimes out-loud) laughter the story elicits from me are always tinged with sadness. The book seems also to be a real lesson in post-modern Russian culture.
Arte Johnson's inflections and accent seem perfectly suited to the character. BUT, and here's a big one, the editing of this audio book is very poor. Obviously, no narrator can read non-stop without a flub here and there. He/she is then obliged to pick up where he/she left off and correct the mistake. It's the editor's job to delete the offending material and "stitch together" the newly recorded passage with the end of the previously read passage. It's also her/his job to join together a newly recorded passage with the previously recorded. In these days of digital editing, that's a relatively quick and easy task. Unfortunately, time and again in Absurdistan, the new material is attached directly to the end of the old. The effect is to create a seeming run-on sentence. The listener is afforded no opportunity to grasp the fact that a phrase or sentence has just come to an end, since it's instantly followed by another. This is more than unnatural; it affects comprehension and certainly disturbs the listener's absorbtion into the tale.
It's this distraction that subtracts a star from my review. That aside, the book is a very engaging and thoroughly original work.
By far the best audio book I've experienced thus far. I have not read the print version and so, perhaps, am not prone to the sense of "something missing" in the verbalization of what, I assume, are visual representations in the book. I found the book to be more like a play in that the narrators are more like fantastic "radio" actors. They perfectly evoke their characters without over-emoting.
As for the content of the book, it's breathtaking. My favorite character is the child, Oskar. Here's an example of the warped mirror of dry irony created when a child views the world with intelligent eyes. Oskar's so very active and acute mind is unsullied by adult resignation. That's why he breaks your heart with his unrelenting and purely innocent attempts to understand his unbearable loss. I found myself rooting furiously for success in Oskar's mission, knowing all the while that it was, of course, futile.
The other characters are also very compelling, involved as they are in their own crushing losses, confusions and disappointments. Their tales unfold more subtlely than Oskar's. At their first introductions, I found myself somewhat at sea, not certain as to what was "going on". Have faith, dear listener, because the mosaic becomes a clear picture as time goes by and all the characters become enmeshed in a greater story.
There is much sadness in this book, but it is elevated to a kind of ecstatic melancholy by the objective simplicity of the writing. I found my emotions fully engaged but never manipulated or exploited. I was not depressed by the experience, but exhillerated. And there's a fair amount of redemption at the end of the book.
This book is positively magic, made all the more so by the exquisite performances of the narrators. Can't recommend it highly enough!
I was a bit wary as I began listening: the wry style and, on the surface at least, typical characters made me think that the author would spend his time ridiculing the archetypes of American suburbia. This notion was quickly dispelled, though, as each character was more fully fleshed out, not only through the revelations of their inner workings provided by the omniscient narrator, but through their actions.
Even the most seemingly predictable characters--the frustrated, tough-guy ex-cop, the internet-sex-addicted husband, and even the sex offender--acted in completely unpredictable ways and had subtle and complex nuances of personality and behavior. I found myself repeatedly predicting an outcome as a particular scene unfolded, only to find myself surprised and intrigued by the actual path the story took. The result is a very unique and thought-provoking look at what has become a cliche of American life, as well as a very illuminating and engaging look at a half dozen fascinating characters. Sensationalism is certainly not a virtue, but rather the exploration of personality and motivation.
I hate to read reviews which spill the story so I won't. But, I will offer a caveat to audible listeners. I use high-end, in-ear ear buds which transmit every nuance of a reader's voice right into my head. I have to say that our narrator took some serious getting-used-to on my part. He makes a lot of noise: very noticable and noisy swallowing, gulping and wheezing sounds that, at times, were quite distracting. I found his narration style to be excellent and very apropos for the story. And I did get more used to the extraneous sounds as I went along. Just be prepared!
All things considered, a very entertaining, often thought-provoking book that I found perfect for rush-hour commuting.
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