by Sukey HowardJuly 2008
Murmurs of the heart
Belong to Me, Marisa de los Santos' latest, is unabashedly and wholeheartedly a woman's book, and in this audio incarnation, read with warmth and understanding by Julia Gibson, it's the perfect summer listen. It's the kind of guilty pleasure that ranks with a pint of Haagen Dazs chocolate chocolate chip, a not-too-dainty spoon and no one to share it with. The characters, save the few irredeemably unlikable, are all people that grow on you in the best way. Front and center is Cornelia, a petite, plucky, thirtysomething with enormous generosity of heart, and a husband to die for, who leaves the urban hubbub of Manhattan for the kinder, gentler suburbs. Sidelined by her perfectly coiffed, perfectly dressed, scathingly judgmental new neighbor, Cornelia befriends an elusive single mom with a brilliant, lovable teenage son I'd be more than happy to adopt. There seem to be subplots galore, but as loves and losses, yearnings and secrets surface, the threads of the subplots begin to mesh, weaving into a wonderfully patterned tale, one I wished would go on for many more hours.
A WORLD ON THE BRINK OF WAR
As a big Alan Furst fan, I've been hoping for unabridged recordings of his novels - finally, one arrived and it's been worth the wait. The Spies of Warsaw, impeccably read by Daniel Gerroll, is quintessential Furst: elegant, sophisticated, vividly detailed and deeply atmospheric, with a quiet, ominous tristesse - after all this is historical espionage and we know what happened. Warsaw, 1937: the Nazis are a threatening, sinister presence; the French, strong allies of Poland, are assuring themselves that the Maginot Line will protect them from attack. We get a close-up, a cameo, of what it was like in that frigid, snow-blanketed city, buzzing with rumors, where competing intelligence operations bumped up against each other, through the eyes of Col. Jean-Francois Mercier, a World War I hero, a man of honor and a true patriot. Mercier, posted as French military attache, runs what day-to-day spy operations he can and picks up information at cocktail parties and boring diplomatic dinners. When the action heats up, it does so without unnecessary razzle-dazzle, making the derring-do believable and all the more suspenseful.
Barbara Walters, the ultimate interviewer, reveals the inner Barbara, and lots of juicy details of the outer Barbara, in Audition, her ultimate auto-interview and final audition. And she reads it herself in that oh-so-recognizable voice.
I had the rare treat, in this so-many-books, so-many-audios, so-little-time world, to read and to listen to Lush Life, Richard Price's glowingly acclaimed new novel. And, admitted audiophile though I am, I really think the audio is better. Bobby Cannavale gives an incredible performance, getting every nuance of vibrant, varied New York speak right, even flawless, rapid-fire Puerto Rican Spanish. He takes a page of print and makes it three-dimensional; you hear these characters when they're talking and when they're trying to figure out life on New York's Lower East side, a crazy-quilt of trendy gentrification, disappearing remnants of the Jewish immigrant past and squalid, drug-dirty housing projects. Price is a master observer and chronicler of urban grit bracketed by the culture of crime and the culture of cops. The novel is structured as a police procedural centered on a robbery gone wrong, a senseless killing and the rippling repercussions it has for the killer, the detectives, the victim's friends and family, and the no-longer-promising, writer-wannabe suspect. But Price gives it the depth of fine fiction driven by his amazing talent for dialogue, for capturing the cadences of the street and the more subtle cadences of fear, bravado, sorrow and shame.