I have long admired Walker Percy and his novels, which embody his perceptions about 20th century America. I read most of them (in book form) 10 or 20 years ago, and as a kind of project, I have started to "reread" some as audiobooks. Do they "hold up" after 20 years?
I began with Love in the Ruins (my favorite) and enjoyed it very much.
But The Last Gentlemen is not one of Percy's best novels. Percy's characters, even in the best novels--The Moviegoer, Love in the Ruins, The Second Coming--tend to be enactments of ideas . . . types. In the best novels, they somehow "work."
But in The Last Gentlemen, every character seems especially cardboard-like. The dialog is stilted and artificial. Will Barrett's constantly repeating the words of others as he wanders uncomprehending through the existential wonderland of 20th century America becomes, especially with Wolfram Kandinsky's narration, just plain irritating.
Which brings me to the narrator. The habitual way Kandinsky inflected his tones nearly made me throw my ipod against a wall. His reading sounded like the narrations in 1950's newsreels or the travel featurettes that used to play before movies in theaters. But Kandinsky's manner is so exaggerated and the pattern of his inflections so repetitious, they seem like a parody. His whimpery, whiny voicing of Kitty Vaught made it IMPOSSIBLE to imagine how Will (or anyone) could fall in love with her.
I kept asking myself, "How did this guy get the job of recording an audiobook???" At times, I was gritting my teeth (literally), trying to get through a chapter.
I intend to continue revisiting The Moviegoer and The Second Coming through audiobooks, but I would NOT be doing so if Kandinsky were narrating them.
When I saw a few reviews that said how difficult it was to hear the reading, I downloaded the audiobook again to check. Over the years, I have listened to this work at least five times myself because I enjoyed it so much. I simply don't understand. The range of volume is great: sometimes Plummer whispers the words, and they are a little hard to hear, but he IS whispering after all. Then at other times, he is emphatic, but he is not shouting. His reading really is a wonder in itself.
My wife and I also played this recording many times for our daughters when they were little, and they used to mimic the accents and repeat parts they'd memorized. We are Americans of Japanese ancestry, and we thoroughly enjoyed Plummer's putting on an astounding variety of accents to set off the characters in the story. None of us had any trouble understanding the words.
How anyone could think this is less than a five-star performance is beyond me.
I've enjoyed Plummer in his movie roles, but whenever I think of his performances, THIS recording is the first thing that comes to mind.
Dumb cop doesn't even try to check out the story of the boy witnesses.
Dumb psychologist who is not so sure the boys are lying, but has no drive to encourage dumb cop to try to check out the story of the boy witnesses.
Dumb parents who can't figure out their boys are telling the truth. Don't even try to check out the story.
Dumber police chief.
So much dumbness, the plot is really unbelievable.
Serial killer who is a shell-shocked Vietnam War vet. Real veterans should be angry at this book--another purveyor of traumatized Vietnam vet stereotype. Feels as if the author couldn't figure out how to motivate the villain through the entire book so latched on to the deranged veteran option mid-way.
Dumb boys who try to hunt down a serial killer.
Dumb siblings who are either delinquents or selfish, self-centered teens.
I got sucked in by the hype of the publisher's description and the few complimentary reviews by buyers. I was really looking forward to reading a story of friendship and lost innocence. Instead I got this thing . . .
One of the most disappointing purchases I've made. i am SO glad that I bought this book as a special purchase. Cheap. But it is so bad, I don't feel much comfort about the low price.
I have a problem trying to read Stephen King. I've tried at least three times and can't get past the first five or ten pages. Acquaintances tell me I MUST read him. He sells millions of copies. Movies are made from his books. I REALLY like several of the movies made from his books (especially Silver Bullet, Stand by Me, and Dolores Claiborne), but I suspect the modifications of plot and injection of humanity by the film-makers and the performances of the actors have a lot to do with my enjoyment.
And I don't mind long books (I recently finished 1Q84--just barely and with a whole lot of doubt about Haruki Murakami and the translation (Was it causing some misunderstandings? Is Murakami really saying . . .???), and I am currently reading Ulysses), but when I consider that Under the Dome is over 200 pages longer than Ulysses, I just can't see spending the time and attention on Dome.
I am not trying to be a literary snob. I am hooked on sci-fi, murder mysteries, TV and movies.
So this time, after watching the exciting TV pilot of Under the Dome, then reading the glowing reviews on Audible, and not being able to wait to find out over the life of the TV series what's going to happen, I thought maybe instead of reading, I could listen to Under the Dome.
A little more than 30 minutes into the story I stopped. I immediately noticed the differences in the plot--between the book and the TV show. And I like the story line of the TV show better. After watching 30 minutes of the show, I was looking forward to seeing how the story progresses.
As for the audiobook . . .
I don't know why the account of the woodchuck bothers me so much. It's not the gruesomeness of its death. I wasn't turned off by horror. It's a woodchuck. It was the attempt to make the consciousness of the woodchuck open to the reader that was . . . clumsy, almost laughably clumsy.
But what finally made me return this book was the brutal murder of Angela. Yes, I know that one of the purposes of the narration must have been to make the ugliness of the murder and the murderer REALLY ugly, but there comes a point in this description when the victim is made ugly, and I can even see how a King fan might rationalize that: Yes, that's the point--how such a terrible act transforms even the victim into a thing of horror. At some point, however, I come to wonder not about the murderer, his victim, or the nature of humanity (or inhumanity) in this small town but about the writer himself.
I think that King was an early user of word processing, and I'm pretty sure that word processing--giving writers the ability to churn out hundreds (and in this case thousands of pages) with much greater ease than scribing with pen on paper--has encouraged a kind of self-indulgence that really needs great discipline and great editors (or in the case of the other modern art form--television and movies--time limits and the cooperative work of script writers, directors, and actors) to make it less . . . oozy.
This review is UNFAIR. I listened to only 31 minutes of the 34.5 hour recording. I very rarely respond to writing like this. Maybe it's an indicator that King IS a wonderful writer.
I have read this book (in book form) three times and seen the movie three times. And now heard it twice.
The book is a marvel--weaving together a moving story, memorable characters (especially, of course, Tereza), and thought-provoking, poetic meditations on love, fate, literature, art, music, and beauty..
But the despair that ultimately underlies the novel is troubling. This lightness of being sits heavy on the heart when all is said and done.
This crisp, clear, carefully modulated reading, was perfect. Richmond Hoxie's performance was exactly, syllable-by-syllable, right.
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