by Sukey HowardJune, 1997
Best listening for Audiobook Month
Jeremy Irons' reading of Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita is extraordinary -- more than extraordinary. Irons is so convincing a Humbert Humbert, writhingly conscious of his own depravity, yet drowning in soul-splitting erotic anticipation as he pursues his "little Lo," the gangly but ravishing 12-year-old object of his pedophilic obsession, that you may find yourself sympathizing with his monstrous anguish. Nabokov's nymphet and her doomed, perverted suitor, so shocking when he created them nearly 40 years ago, have become part of our culture and language. Now, Nabokov's darkly comic, beautifully written, controversial novel will cause a sensation again in this compelling audio presentation.
Another, somewhat more likable hero to root for is Andy Caspar, an idealistic son of Silicon Valley, who battles the big boys with big bucks and big prestige in The First $20 Million is Always the Hardest, Po Bronson's new novel, read here by Aaron Frye. Andy and his motley crew of coders, programmers and engineers leave the security and the confines of a major techno think tank to create the VW of the PC world, a small computer that's cheap, very cheap, and every bit as good as its more expensive cousins. The big boys don't want this to happen and it takes a lot more than good code to keep them at bay and keep the machine in play. It's fun, fast and may renew your faith in that ultra-American breed, the entrepreneurial underdog.
Sylvia Plath, a wonderful, highly acclaimed poet, committed suicide in 1963. Her admirers were saddened but not surprised and The Bell Jar, her autobiographical novel offers insights into the private hell she sought to escape. In what has now become a contemporary classic, Plath charts the downward spiral of her heroine's depression. Esther Greenwood, so like her creator, is a beautiful, brilliant student, a promising writer and winner of academic awards. But during a summer internship in New York City, Esther begins to find everyday life overwhelming and on her return home sinks farther and farther away. Plath's intimate description of Esther's illness and her treatment, almost barbaric by today's standards, is harrowing and deeply affecting, ever the more so because of Plath's own tragic end. The Bell Jar has sold over two million copies since its posthumous publication, and now Academy Award-winning actress Frances McDormand reads it for us in this powerful, new audio adaptation.
Angelina falls in love with Sal, but Sal rats on her Mafioso daddy who lands in the slammer for nine long years. Sal gets a new face and a new life in the witness protection program but by an odd jerk of the fickle finger of fate, his loyal Angelina, who has been saving herself for him for lo these many years, thinks she sees him -- or part of him -- in her Uncle Louie's video of his boring Key West vacation. They are off and running, heading south in Virgin Heat, Laurence Shames' cute, quasi-crime caper ("quasi" because there's more cute than crime) full of gangsters, wise guys, nice guys.
Another New York weirdo is front and center in Matthew Hall's The Art of Breaking Glass, but this one is rather appealing even though he's a dedicated urban terrorist. The trouble with Bill is that he can't stand to see his city destroyed by the greed of big-time realtors who care nothing about the people they dispossess. Wanting not only to destroy the destroyers, but to encourage social justice, Bill proceeds with his own agenda: a little kidnapping, a lot of bombing, a few murders, and enough skin-of-the-teeth escapes and grueling chases to make a good flick. There's also a touch of romance and the chance that Bill will be back to terrorize for the good of the people again. Veteran actor Jerry Orbach narrates.
You may have just eaten your last Big Mac . . . If you thought "mad cow disease" and the political shenanigans that surrounded it were funny, think again. It's only one of a deadly and incurable group of human and animal diseases, transmittable spongiform encephalopathies (T.S.E.), and not just limited to the U.K. and Europe. In Deadly Feasts, which Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Rhodes has subtitled "Tracking the Secrets of a Terrifying New Plague," he does exactly that in a chillingly accurate chronicle that reads like a detective story. From the work on a mysterious neurological disease in New Guinea by a brilliant American physician in the 1950s to current concern about the increasing incidence of T.S.E. in people and in animals throughout the world, Rhodes synthesizes the medical data, the interpersonal rivalries, the scientific revelations. "Deadly Feasts" should bring this potential plague to everyone's attention. Rhodes reads with the calm, even tone that makes his writing so riveting.
The Partner is good Grisham, more intriguing than the last few, more interior. There are no whirlwind chases or breathless escapes. The fascination is with the cunning and almost preternatural planning that John Grisham's anti-hero hero, Patrick Lanigan, is capable of. Patrick, a young, upcoming but disenchanted partner in a Biloxi law firm, planned what may be the perfect crime, including his own death and the stealthy takeover of $90 million. As the details are revealed and the perfection possibly imperiled, you can't help rooting for this guy. But, you ask all the way through, can he get away with it? Michael Beck does a more than credible job as storyteller, getting the accents, Mississippi and otherwise, and the mood just right.
Ben Bradford, the anti-hero hero of Douglas Kennedy's The Big Picture, is also a young, upcoming, disenchanted partner in a law firm, this one in New York. I think that you'll be rooting him too. Ben didn't plan anything, not at first anyway. In a fit of justified rage, in "five unhinged seconds," he moves from upstanding father, husband and citizen to man on the run, whose former identity must never come to light. Ben's planning begins after the crime, when "perfection" is his only way out. This is more than a can-he-get-away-with-it; Ben's life, before and after, makes you think about success, compromise and real happiness. Cotter Smith's narration captures all the nuances of Ben's shifting circumstances and the tension of Douglas Kennedy's well-plotted story.
Taut and nerve-jangling, Jeffery Deaver's The Bone Collector gives us a weirdo serial killer who stands out in a category of weirdos, a New York prowler who leaves arcane clues about the next murder at the scene of each crime. Baffled, the police turn to Lincoln Rhyme, the former head of NYPD Forensics, now a quadriplegic who can only move his head and one finger. Rhyme, fed up with his brutally limited life, isn't interested until something in the crime scene report catches his eye. Working closely with Amelia Sachs, a willowy, redheaded police woman who acts as his eyes and hands, and a high-tech forensic team, Rhyme begins to see a pattern in the clues and realizes that the killer is more interested in tantalizing the police with his clues than he is in doing away with his victims. David McCallum reads with the icy cool expertise.