Lovers and other strangers
Amy Bloom, author of the bestselling novel “Away,” does something very clever with the structure of her newest collection of short stories, “Where the God of Love Hangs Out.” Two novellas make up the bulk of the book, each consisting of a quartet of interconnected short stories. This works especially well on audio because the listener is given the perfect place to take a break. At the center of each novella is a couple, and each story takes place at a different point in time, with the couple at a new stage in their lives. The breaks between the stories allow you to pause and absorb Bloom’s powerful insights into the unpredictability of the human heart.
Though highly recommended, this collection is uneven, as the two novellas are so well written that you have a hard time shaking them off. The four other short stories are fine, but don’t resonate at the same level. Bloom looks at love in all its forms and does so with humor, heartache, passion, compassion, tragedy, and ultimately, a clear eye. Veteran narrator Susan Ericksen has a slightly deep, malleable voice she uses to create distinct characters and convey the many emotions Bloom evokes.
Amy Greene gives us a harsher look at love and the destruction that can be caused in its pursuit in “Bloodroot.” This compelling debut novel, set on a remote Appalachian mountain, takes up the violent interconnections between two families. Unfortunately, it does not follow through on its opening promise.
The audiobook begins with Byrdie Lamb describing her family’s “granny women” and their telepathic gifts. But as events unfold, those special powers do little to help the doomed women of her clan. In fact, those gifts figure very little into a story that has much more to do with obsession, unfulfilled promise, and disappointment than anything of a more supernatural bent. However, Greene has an uncanny knack for dialogue and dialect, and though flawed, her story intrigues. Had she not spread the narrative so thin among so many characters we may have seen them as more realized, more whole.
Executive producer Orli Moscowitz wisely assigned a different actor to each character, as Green’s technique was to shift back and forth in time and perspective. The different voices keep confusion at bay. The six actors do a great job with the dialect, capturing the colorful, lyrical quality of both the prose and their characters.
T.C. Boyle’s latest endeavor, “Wild Child And Other Stories,’’ is worth picking up for the title story alone. Boyle’s other tales are entertaining and humorous enough, but you would be hard pressed to remember them a week later. “Wild Child,” however, is as good as anything he has ever written.
A novella, it reimagines the life of Victor of Aveyron, a feral child found in the woods in Napoleonic France. The author revisits his “taming” with a tenderness wonderfully devoid of sentimentality. Though he reads too quickly, Boyle is a surprisingly polished narrator who knows when to punch up the dark and witty dialogue and when to pull back.
The winner of Barbara Kingsolver’s Bellwether Prize for fiction supporting social change is Heidi Durrow’s “The Girl Who Fell From The Sky,” a hard-edged story of Rachel, an 11-year-old girl who is the lone survivor of a family tragedy.
The main story revolves around Rachel, the daughter of a Danish woman and a black G.I. But a subplot, the story of the boy who witnessed their horrific accident, reverberates more. Ultimately, Durrow gives us a tale that is hopeful, but not before confronting such themes as deep-rooted grief and the identity confusion felt by biracial youngsters in this country.
Three female narrators ably capture the racial tension and anxiety of the main characters, as well as a wide array of urban and foreign accents. The use of different actors helps bridge the shifting perspectives and shifts in times Durrow used throughout the audiobook.
The least successful of this month’s selections is Daniel H. Pink’s “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.” New York Times bestselling author Pink offers an interesting treatise on human motivation. He breaks down incentives into three categories and explains, with strong and reasonable arguments, what really prods us into doing our best. Unfortunately, he could have done this in a magazine article. As with many self-help books, padding and repetition are a problem. He also includes a “tool-kit” and a glossary, but neither provides us much more information than already covered earlier in the book. As a narrator he is clear and his pacing is good, but Pink employs a hale and hearty cheerfulness that soon wears thin.
Rochelle O’Gorman is a syndicated audiobook critic.