The characters in novelist Robert Stone's latest collection of short stories are depraved, depressed, and debauched, struggling just as much with their vices as their own dark souls. The people who populate Fun With Problems the reckless journalist, the lonely husband, the freebasing actress, the self-destructive professor are beyond redemption, barreling toward an abyss from which they can't or won't stop themselves. This here is heavy stuff.
Narrating is David Colacci, a gruff-voiced orator whose brusque delivery gives these tales of addiction, infidelity, and hopelessness an emotional urgency. The risk here is that Colacci could veer into hokey, sentimental territory, sympathizing with the characters in a way Stone doesn't intend. But Colacci's interpretation is spot-on, oozing with the venomous contempt these characters feel toward themselves and those around them. In "High Wire", the longest (and best) of the eight stories, about the long-term relationship between two addicts, Colacci is particularly heartbreaking, his voice and cadence perfectly reflecting a junkie's sad descent: "We would embrace. Sometimes we would hold each other, as chaste as Hansel and Gretel, to show we cared. We hoped we cared."
This isn't to say the book, clocking in at just over six hours, is an unpleasant experience, though at times it makes for an uncomfortable one. As much as the characters can be unlikeable and their actions unconscionable, they aren't entirely hard to relate to. They may represent the bleaker sides of humanity, but they still come across as, well, human. This as much due to Colacci's forceful yet wistful portrayal as it is to Stone's poignant storytelling. Jaime Buerger
In Fun with Problems, Robert Stone demonstrates once again that he is "one of our greatest living writers" (Los Angeles Times). The pieces in this new volume vary greatly in length - some are almost novellas, others no more than a page - but all share the signature blend of longing, violence, black humor, sex, and drugs that has helped Stone illuminate the dark corners of the human soul.
Entire lives are laid out with remarkable precision, in captivating prose: a screenwriter carries on a decades-long affair with a beautiful actress, whose descent into addiction he can neither turn from nor share; a bored husband picks up a mysterious woman only to find that his ego has led him woefully astray; a world-beating Silicon Valley executive receives an unwelcome guest at his mansion in the hills; a scuba dive guides uneasy newlyweds to a point of no return.
Fun with Problems showcases Stone's great gift: to pinpoint and make real the impulses - by turns violently coercive and quietly seductive - that cause us to conceal, reveal, and betray our very selves.
I'm not much of a fan of the audio book experience so far. But this is a great book for this format. The stories are done well and work great for audio in the short story format.
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