Cartwheel by Jennifer duBois (Random House Audio)
When I heard Random House was publishing a novel loosely inspired by the Amanda Knox murder trial, I was cautiously intrigued. Would it 1) feed into the mob-and-pitchfork media frenzy, or 2) try to flesh out all the contextual holes that get lost in 15 second media clips? I was psyched that it was door #2, which should be no surprise coming from Jennifer duBois. DuBois is a perceptive and artful storyteller, and Cartwheel switches between several different perspectives to zoom in on all the contours of a mysterious crime that became a cultural obsession. I’ve got just a few chapters left, and so far I’m loving the light she shines darkly on the flawed assumptions that seduce us and the ways truth is often so, so much stranger than fiction. Emily Rankin (who’s also recorded The Age of Miracles and others as Emily Janice Card) narrates the audio, and her eerily innocent voice is a great fit for this story about two young women setting out to discover a bigger, darker world.
Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski (HarperAudio)
Finally, FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER, my favorite Bukowski works are available on audio. Cue the rye whiskey for a celebratory drink!! As I listened to Christian Baskous’ brilliant narration of Ham on Rye, all the eviscerating pain and dark humor of Henry Chinaski’s childhood with a cruel father, wheezing German relatives, and horrible asshole schoolmates came tumbling back into memory. Henry endures adolescence and suffers through early adulthood resisting the cage of the American Dream, reluctantly accumulating his own flock of “the poor and the lost and the idiots […] I was like a turd that drew flies instead of like a flower that butterflies and bees desired.” Bukowski forever transformed American literature with his zero-fucks-given, no-bullshit poetry, and narrator Christian Baskous gruffly delivers his short, declarative sentences in a relaxed, nonchalant drawl. I loved this and can’t wait to listen to the rest of the new Bukowski releases.
Verdict: BUY, because Bukowski is a profane, shiny treasure of a poet, and you don’t truly know his work until you’ve heard it out loud.
Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman (Tantor Audio)
For all of us who fell in love with Jenji Kohan’s TV adaption of Piper Kerman’s story about her year spent in a low security prison on drug charges, we were smitten with the drama and the conflict and the kickass story arcs — most of which, it turns out, were too good to be true. Writing non fiction can be a bitch because you’ve got to stick to the facts; unless you’re writing about The World’s Most Interesting Subject or were dealt an amazing built-in story arc, you might be out of luck. Piper Kerman’s totally true memoir is interesting in its own way, but misses the narrative payoff of the brilliant TV series it inspired: Piper doesn’t actually cheat on her fiance by hooking up with her ex girlfriend in the clink, the prison cook doesn’t actually try to starve her out, the fanatical meth addict doesn’t actually try to shank her in the shower, etc. etc. (Oops, spoilers I guess?) Although I didn’t love this memoir as a standalone piece, I did enjoy reading the kernels of truth that inspired fictional events in the TV series.
Verdict: BYPASS unless you’re a megafan of the TV series, in which case BORROW like I did so you can see for yourself what’s fact and what’s fiction.
Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick (Hachette Audio)
Yowza, what a tricky subject. Matthew Quick’s follow up to the charming The Silver Linings Playbook chronicles one day in the life of Leonard Peacock, a gifted and troubled high school student who plans to take out his ex best friend with an antique P-38 Nazi handgun on his eighteenth birthday. Quick returns to several of the elements that made Silver Linings an enormous success: a misunderstood but pure love interest, a sympathetic male mentor, handwritten letters, gifts and tokens, the quest for Truth and Beauty. Quick’s signature lighthearted style makes for a jarring counterpoint to the dark subject of teen shootings, but the glue that held it together for me was Noah Galvin’s awesome narration. Galvin brings Leonard Peacock to life in a pitch perfect performance that captures Leonard’s full range: from too-smart-for-his-own-good sarcastic quips, to voice-cracking terror and pain. This read was outside my usual wheelhouse, but it was totally brave and engaging and I’m looking forward to whatever Quick and Galvin each do next.
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