This is a beautiful, gut-wrenching book. It's wonderfully written and very well performed. It's a first person narrative, and so successfully performed that I have no trouble believing that I've been listening to Leonard Peacock himself reading his story, backed up by the other characters who speak through him.
First, the story: I've never read anything by Matthew Quick before. In fact, I wouldn't normally even try a story about a suicidal (and possibly homicidal) teenager. But Quick's writing is full of honesty, clarity, poetry and humanity, and the character of Leonard is so well drawn and interesting that I found myself not wanting him to kill himself because the world needs people like Leonard Peacock in it; and I want to meet Leonard and know him.
And now I'm wondering if the paragraph I just wrote will look good in my college application. (Read the book and you'll know why I said that.)
Because just for the record ... and for my college application ... I wouldn't have wanted him to commit suicide even if he was a spectacularly unlikeable person.
Everything in the story is emotionally real, for good and ill. Quick is obviously an insightful and empathetic observer of people. His writing is full of compassion, but never glides over the messy bits, even when part of me wanted him to.
Second, the narration: Just absolutely perfect. The different voices are distinguished nicely, with each character (male and female) given distinctiveness and believability but without sounding forced or like caricatures. But mostly, the voice is Leonard's, and it's completely believable and good to listen to. Even if Noah Galvin is a middle-aged, cigar-chomping rodeo announcer in real life, to me he will forever be a teenage boy from New Jersey.
Finally, the recommendation: Read the book (well, listen to the book). You'll laugh. You'll cry. You may have to stop to write down a few words and phrases (I did), or to look up a few historical facts (Walt Disney was a Nazi sympathizer, who knew?) And if you're paying any attention at all to what's going on in Leonard's head, you'll be a better person when you're done.
Oh, and you may feel the urge to watch Casablanca a few times as well.
This was a difficult book to listen to -- not surprisingly, considering that it's about violent people and violent events. But Lawrence Wright is a wonderful writer who presents complex events and people without flinching and without sensationalism or sentimentalism. And Alan Sklar's narration captures the text perfectly (for me, at least); he's clear and consistent, serious as befits the subject without being boring. I don't know if he's pronouncing all the names correctly, but he never stumbles and is consistent across the book.
I feel smarter after listening to this book -- maybe a bit wiser, a bit more understanding. Definitely more knowledgeable. I don't know if I really am smarter -- this is the first book I've read on the Middle East except a few novels and some histories of Israel. Wright could be slanting things in a way I just don't see -- but he's a reputable journalist and his point of view seems clear-eyed and non-judgmental. After reading this book I certainly have a more expanded view of human beings and what we're capable of, and how our societies are shaped by us and shape us.
The book presents a terrifying view of a part of the world so distant from mine. I'm working on a computer; I'm listening to music; I make music and love art; my dogs are at my feet. I'm a woman, with a career and a car and all the accoutrements of modern Western life ... and there are people -- serious, thoughtful, dedicated people -- to whom I am an abomination. The ones in this book are mostly Muslims, though certainly they don't represent all (or even the majority of) Muslims in the book. And yet there are no two-dimensional villains in the story Wright tells, no individual person setting out to do evil for its own sake. The story leading to 9/11 includes lots of people who want to make the world a better place (though defining "better" can be a bit of a problem). Also lots of people just wanting to get by and live. There are frightened people, lost people, brave people, selfish people, gentle and cruel people. They're all here in our world with us -- which is the same as saying we're in their world with them.
I highly recommend this book. But it's not an easy listen.
I have listened to this audiobook several times already, and will undoubtedly listen again. First of all, it's a great story -- I read the novel years ago and went on to read all of the Dortmunder books. (Never thought I'd bond with a bunch of petty criminals, but I did.) And the narrator is wonderful. He reads the prose with just the right attitude (usually kind of a dead-pan fatalism, if it's Dortmunder's thoughts he's tracking) and marvelous voices. Each and every character has distinction. Kelp, Murch and Dortmunder sound exactly like themselves, so much so that it's hard to believe sometimes that there's one man reading them all. And they're all really fun characters to begin with.
The plot of The Hot Rock is unbelievable, over-the-top, and yet I bought every bit of it. If a thing could go wrong, it generally did ... but then our heroes (such as they are) kept pulling things back from certain doom.
My favorite character is Murch. And Kelp. And Dortmunder. Oh, and there was this great German Shepherd that had Dortmunder trapped on a porch ... Jeff Woodman does a really great German Shepherd, too.
More Dortmunder/Jeff Woodman, please!
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