Bourdain can get on your nerves. I should know, after faithfully inhaling his No Reservations for years, and more recently The Layover, all the while noticing the shows' producers increased tolerance for letting Tony get away with (or encouraging him towards?) kinda lame stuff. To watch as Tony tosses back triple shots of straight (insert local booze here) with a local table-mate until the redness of nose and the inanity of banter chafes my patience, and is no longer good TV (I even found it tedious when I was still a practicing drunk). On the other hand, the Haiti and Beirut and Mozambique episodes are finer recent examples of how No Reservations works when it’s nurtured and cared for. It was this Bourdain I hoped to find in Medium Raw, and with some trepidation I procured the audiobook.
All hesitation was quelled after the first two or three chapters. I am pleased to say I’m now enjoying my second listen, revisiting themes and analyses the first pass threw down with such ease and grace. Whatever impulse Bourdain may have to tread lightly and boozily when shooting some of his less stellar travel drunkalogs is not present here. Instead we have a sharp noggin bristling with ideas and a witty blast of fresh and cheeky verbiage in the sharing of them. He’s got some of David Foster Wallace’s eye for detail, and hints of A. J. Liebling’s ability to communicate complex ideas about food and society in a few finely crafted phrases that get right to the nut.
Dear Tony, if Medium Raw is the Bourdain that the TV versions of you have been hinting at, then please give us more of this pen on paper stuff, as after all it was Kitchen Confidential that sent the TV scouts after you in the first place. Yes you’re fun and irreverent on TV, but you really shine on the page (and incidentally as the narrator of your own work).
I recall having looked forward to another case with the plucky lady cop from book 1. Alas this new tale is mired in a preposterous premise. Also, vastly unlikeable "suspects" consume abundant space flinging tiresome dialogue from within murky yet unremarkable relationship dysfunctions, all the while apparently flubbing a plethora of unlikely close calls for busting our dead-ringer protagonist. Could just barely make it to the end, but solely to ensure I was not imagining the train wreck.
OK it felt significant. All those gray areas covered so meticulously but still so messily. We all make messes. Roth's protagonist does us all the favor of painting so many percentages of gray into this one, it feels big and universal while getting all human and grrrr in the process. Not a light read, but not an unforgiving one.
Finished this about 5 months ago, so things a bit foggy, but here goes: Innumerable verbal confrontations with undesirables help each of our feisty gang to conclude bad people are really quite a pain, and so dispatch a few of them, but not before administering a batch of homilies and lectern poundings to ensure we know what's good, wholesome and worth fighting for, except I'm still not quite sure I got it. Love Will Patton's work - it's pretty well the only thing worth listening to here.
Geez the clients Haller gets. I started with Lincoln Lawyer and hung onto the wiper blades while the story thrashed this way and that; very satisfying. By the current installment, I think Connelly is out of gas. The last two thirds felt like the really really long courtroom scenes in Wambaugh's Onion Field, minus the character insights, but yes with occasional jurisprudential zingers. The action was very occasional, and the only riveting scenes were when Haller would shout out things to his hastily conscripted team of poindexters and bikers like "get more file boxes, stat!" [perhaps not actual line but it's been 2 months at least since I finished listening to this tired rehash of all the courtroom snooze-fests I've abided for way too long]. btw: have read at least 7 of Connelly's Bosch series and sure, that gets all procedural and cop-bureaucracy-tedious, but this Haller phoned-in publishing-deadline-looming-so-better-get-typing really tests my loyalty.
Thank you Barry, Grace and James for your insights. I will add this book is not for the rest of our Audible colleagues if their literary predilections do not include:
a) cats being captured, drugged and graphically murdered;
b) elements of Sophocles' Oedipus trotted out in a sophomoric ploy to graft a motif onto a teenage runaway tale;
c) writers like Murakami when they say things like "what I'd like to be is a unique writer who's different from everybody else" and "the key to understanding the novel lies in reading it multiple times."
Really? I mean really?
The audio version comes in 3 parts, and I stopped for good early into the third, out of respect for how little time we have on this earth, and how badly in need of a much ballsier editor this "unique" writer's work is. The narrative is a hot mess, and Murakami knows it, but wishes to continue the ruse, given his existing reputation. Interviews with him reveal he may believe himself to be a medium or channel. Tut tut.
Story aside, performance kudos to Sean Barrett whose Nakata & Hoshino voices alone were a welcome break from the book's meandering miasma.
...as this project has perhaps too many men with too many names in rather a lot of rooms conversing in quite a few accents. Yeah, the planning stage for a heist has been known to drag other tales down too. Maybe I'll skip forward to the action and just imagine all the chin wagging I missed. And does Himmler have to look so gosh darn evil every time our writer conveys his physicality to us? Less would have been more. For planning more intense, but from real life, try Operation Mincemeat or Agent Zigzag - both by Ben Macintyre.
If I dive back into the story and finish I'll come back and add an addendum to this rather ungenerous blurt of mine here.
...due to trouble with narrator, but story not all too compelling either. Reminded me of old plot lines from the annals of "Hart to Hart".
Narrator David Colacci uses a technique I have come to think of as the "Rip Torn" scale of character differentiation: gruff, gruffer and gruffest, with a few female gruffsters thrown in for good measure.
The only character voices who have bothered me more are Dick Hill's women (who belong in children's cartoons and would therefore be credible sounding only if drawn as hedgehogs or koala bears), and anything recent by Scott Brick (The Lion by Nelson DeMille seemed voiced in a Ritalin fog).
I liked our protagonist Dismas, and was getting almost close to caring about his life, wife and career, but then along would come Colacci with another character voiced with some Rip Torn gruffitude and the whole scene would fly out the window for me. Realistically, I suppose I have been spoiled by master craftsmen like Joe Barrett, Humphrey Bower, Tim Goodman, David Timson, and Steven Weber.
...having trouble pressing play, due to: wooden lead characters [Jonathan and Emily]; almost complete absence of humor; an excess of exposition, more exposition and finally lots and lots more exposition. Ouch.
There are moments when it shows promise, and certainly many of the historical threads fascinate. But when the cardboard protagonists come together in the presence of all these rich cultural artifacts and treasures, I can't concentrate. It's a bit liking setting Joe Hardy (of the "Boys" of the same name) and Nancy Drew against the backdrop of a Dickens novel or smack dab in the heart of the New Testament.
Here's an idea: Could Levin write a work of non-fiction? Yes! Should he scrap the novel as a viable form of getting his wonderful historical material across? Yes! For now, I will get my history from masters of the fictional form such as Bryce Courtenay and Ken Follett or from pure non-fiction like the awesome (and lengthy) Gandhi & Churchill I just finished by Arthur Herman or anything by Ben MacIntyre.
The only first person cop/lawyer style narrative I have enjoyed as much have been the 3 or 4 books by Nelson DeMille that feature retired NYPD detective John Corey. However, author Michael Connelly's sense of story thread is impeccable and a thrill to follow. Connelly's work [I've read one other: Void Moon] appears to involve fewer tangents and sidebars than DeMille's sometimes rambling oddyseys, and so drives you to the destination with a more focused trajectory. I think there is one other Mickey Haller story, but I'm going to read a few other Connelly's before I try that one. Will review Void Moon later [I'm on the last 45 minutes of it and am crawling Audible for another Connelly. I don't want to see the cookie jar empty while I savor the last few crumbs of the Void Moon confection].
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