When it comes to short stories, no one does it better than Alice Munro, and at 78, her perception, style and control seem only to have sharpened. Munro’s narratives can be deceptively simple until her subtle, skillful analysis of a situation begins to surface; her characters may look back after years to see the reality of their younger selves, or they may experience a moment, even a sequence of moments, that transforms their future—not as a bold epiphany, but as a more nuanced shift. Too Much Happiness, her latest and winner of this year’s Man Booker International Prize, is a wonderful reminder of why Munro is considered such a master of her craft. And, read here by Kimberly Farr and Arthur Morey, it is a wonderful reminder, too, of how powerful short stories are as audio presentations. Most of the 10 stories in this collection are set in Inner Munrovia—small-town southern Ontario—where tragedy and oddity, big and small, can roil the seemingly smooth surface; but the title story, the longest and most unusual, is based on the life of Sophia Kovalevsky, a Russian mathematician and novelist who lived, loved, lost and strived, in vain, for intellectual and social equality during the last half of the 19th century.
Bosch is back
I’ve always had a soft spot for hardboiled Harry Bosch, Michael Connelly’s super-dedicated LAPD homicide detective. He makes his 15th appearance in Nine Dragons, read by Len Cariou, who has given this tough/tender cop voice, depth and added dimension in seven audio performances. What makes Nine Dragons so compelling is not just the well-plotted whodunit-cum-police procedural and not just the case—solving the murder of John Li, the elderly, Chinese immigrant owner of Fortune Liquors in gang-banging South L.A. It’s the sudden twist that morphs this stolid, solid stateside investigation into a wild, violent, pounding 39-hour thriller-diller hunt through the seamy underside of Hong Kong for Harry’s kidnapped 13-year-old daughter. When the hunt comes to a screeching stop, the aftershocks change Harry’s life, his daughter’s and their future together. What brings all this on—cultural misunderstanding and its inevitable fallout, an adolescent’s naiveté, a father’s fierce, relentless drive to save his daughter—takes Nine Dragons out of the ordinary and leaves its characters to come to terms with their soul-scorching actions and listeners primed for the sequel.
Audio of the month
What do you get if you cross the “Prairie Home Companion” joke show with a seminar on the fundamental questions of Western philosophy? You get Heidegger and a Hippo Walk Through Those Pearly Gates, Thomas Cathcart’s and Daniel Klein’s third foray (remember Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar?) into elucidating the daunting, dismaying depths of philosophy with some pretty good jokes and some very clever, fast-paced précis of what the big guys have thought and said about the meaning of it all. Because death is one of the immutable facts of life, a combo that drives many to distraction, the awareness of mortality—and its prequel (life) and sequel (the hereafter)—is basic to the human condition and has been front and center in metaphysics, theology, ethics and existentialism for eons. Heavy stuff that, in Cathcart’s and Klein’s deft, dare we say death-defying hands, and with their twinkling, tandem reading, lightens up, makes you laugh and leaves you understanding a lot more than you did when you started.