Charlton Griffin's narration is an over-the-top, guttural manly man's interpretation of both Mencken's crass plain dealing and Nietzsche's booming iconoclasm. The voice seems suitable for cowboy poetry, or History Channel nostalgia. For a book of philosophy, the effect accentuates the cheap melodrama in both the author and the philosopher, like a Wagnerian opera performed by a high school marching band. I can live with it, but it's a little silly.
As for the content: Mencken does not offer a nuanced reading of Nietzsche's ideas... maybe he's right, but he does have a remarkable ability of sucking the fun out of this philosopher. This book, Dionysus and philosophy by way of Baltimore, is of value to either Mencken or Nietzsche scholarship. It is not a fruitful introduction for the curious to either thinker.
i appreciate that an author knows his own material well enough to speak about it, but most authors lack the training to read their work in entirety without making a repetitive snoozer out of it, or garnishing it with awful dose of sincerity, or sarcasm.
on the content:
the book is disproportionately balanced in covering the wrecked Estonia. this shipwreck affords Langewiesche a jaw-dropping prose bonanza when he at last describes the survival-of-the-fittest series of events when the ship goes down. but the examination of the tangled investigation is too well trod, and at times too well revisited. this author is a gifted prose stylist, but because his treatment focuses on narrow, articulate examinations of particular ships and straits, i finished the book feeling still uninformed about the breadth of contemporary shipping in our world. there is only a touch of historical context, only a few nods to the geophysics of our ocean world. nonetheless, i would probably read other books by this author.
Reading this brought a lot of Woody Allen to mind, except that as comedies of manner go the story is heavily preoccupied with the emotional dross of our post-Nixonian American condition, and because of that the story never quite takes flight. I was reminded also of Ingmar Bergman's Scenes from a Marriage, because Franzen allows his characters free reign to work through the many pages of relationship dialectic that gives a novel of sentiment its engrossing inscrutability. Scenes from a Marriage, and other later Bergman movies, remain concise for all their laborious, winding verbal argument, because each point-counterpoint provides a glimpse into the novelty of the warring characters. The romantic or fraternal arguments of Freedom tend more toward a housekeeping routine, dusting off familiar heirlooms for several pages. It is somehow still engrossing, and I'm inclined to believe that it meets the requirements of a successful novel. The Berglunds and the people in their orbits endure decades of perfectly normal disappointment, and narrative arcs that require a considerable investment of a reader's emotional attention seek perhaps to formalistically reinforce these disappointments endemic to contemporary freedom by resolving flatly, or in the worst case of Joey Berglund, dissipatorily. It is not dark but it is a sincerely dim work of fiction, wrought by a genuine Eeyore.
On the audio recording:
LeDoux isn't bad... I agree with other reviewers that he appropriately applies tones of sarcasm and cynical reserve, yet has a range of tender modes that fit well when the going gets rough. I'm a listener who prefers less character acting for the presentation of multiple voices in the narrative. LeDoux does well with the 3 primary characters, especially as they grow over time. He handles Joey's voice spastically for such a keep-your-cool young man, and his rendition of Lalitha's accent is atrociously bungled, a serious disservice given the importance of her role.
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