There’s always a sense of before and after as we move through the days and decades of our lives, marked by major or minor events. But when a cataclysm strikes, life is forever divided. “Before” becomes a fairy tale of ordinary happiness and “after” a hell to be achingly endured, filled with anguish over what might have been. Mary Beth Latham, a loving wife and devoted mother of three very different teenagers, is the narrator and protagonist of Every Last One, Anna Quindlen’s latest, intensely affecting novel. Always an eloquent, empa- thetic observer of the daily domes- tic simmer and the complexities of being a mother, she gives a bravura performance here, movingly mirrored by Hope Davis’ fine reading. The Lathams are a believable family with fairly predictable problems— a brush with anorexia, one twin a super-athlete, the other engulfed in adolescent alienation—offset by their closeness, laughter and love. When the unimaginable happens, Quindlen evokes what it feels like to find that the fullness of time might be empty, and to go on anyway.
VOICES OF THE CITY OF LIGHT
Summer, with its heat waves and waves of tourists, may not be the best time to hang out in Paris, but it’s a perfect time to luxuriate in a shady spot and let yourself be taken on an anecdotal audio excursion through its history and streets. In Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris, prize-winning biographer, historian and fervent Francophile Graham Robb gives us charmingly nonsequential, wonderfully etched portraits-in-time of this fabulous, fabled city as it grew from an island in the Seine into a sprawling European capital. Paris is revealed through a “mini-Human Comedy,” recounted by many different voices, all brought to life by Simon Vance’s quintessentially elegant voice, from the young Napoleon as he loses his virginity at the Palais Royale in 1787 to Baron Hauss- mann, Madame Zola, Vidocq, Proust, de Gaulle, Nicolas Sarkozy, the newer immigrants who live in the poor, unsightly, outlying quartiers and many more. The “adventures” here make history vital, witty and entertaining.
AUDIO OF THE MONTH
I’m a big fan of Richard North Patterson; he never shies away from taking on major issues and weaving them into taut legal thrillers. His courtroom scenes, with their edgy retorts and rebuttals, showcase the immediacy and emotional force of a good audio performance. That force is front and center as John Bedford Lloyd skillfully narrates In the Name of Honor, Patterson’s newest and one of his best. Honor, specifically the military variety, is under scrutiny, but so is PTSD and its devastating effects on our combat forces. Lt. Brian McCarran, son of the current army chief of staff, recently back from a harrowing tour in Iraq, shoots his commanding officer, a man married to his lifelong friend. Capt. Paul Terry, a brilliant young JAG lawyer, is called in to defend Brian in a high-profile court-martial, with Brian’s older sister, a lawyer, equally brilliant— and beautiful—as co-counsel. As Terry searches for the truth, piecing intricate interrelationships together, “honor” becomes suffused with ambiguity, secrets surface, and we’re in for a doozy of a denouement.