Tag Archives: first-person

Classic Coming of Age Tale: Boy’s Life by Robert McCammon (Audio) @SimonAudio

Cover image of audiobook (digital cover for a digital download)So, so late with this review! Boy’s Life by Robert McCammon, beautifully narrated by George Newbern, which I listened to months ago during a fall horror binge, was released in October. Blame it on the old blogging slump, because I really loved listening to this story and could hardly bear having to turn it off to go to work, etc. It made my 2014 Favorites!

Originally published in 1991, Boy’s Life is a semi-autobiographical story of an 11-year-old boy growing up in a small Southern town in the early 1960s. After his father witnesses what appears to be a brutal murder by an unknown killer who knows the area (This is not an autobiographical part), Corey sees his father haunted by what he saw in the dead man’s face that morning and hopes he might find out who the killer is. But the murder mystery aspect is entirely secondary to the story of the quietly magical boyhood that a grown-up Cory Mackenson relates. There are monsters, carnival side shows, and mysterious townsfolk who seem to have supernatural powers, but the reader isn’t always sure what’s “real” and what stems from Cory’s imagination. (He’s a budding writer, after all.)

A realistic story with elements of dark fantasy, this memoir-style tale also includes insights into the craft of writing, frequent mentions of the pulp horror that Cory reads with relish, and memories of childhood that are un-sentimentally fond. On the front cover, a blurb by Peter Straub compares it to Pat Conroy’s The Prince of Tides, which I haven’t read.

Author Robert McCammon has an interesting writing history. He was a major author in the horror genre during the 70s and 80s (when the popularity of Stephen King’s books pushed horror fiction into the mainstream) and even started The Horror Writers of America organization, but retired from the field completely in 1999 after writing a work of historical fiction and finding he was too pigeonholed as a horror writer to get it published and disliking the direction that horror fiction was taking.

For more about the author, check out this article and interview in Nightmare from June 2013. Also his introduction to the new edition of Boy’s Life, which is his favorite and best among his own works.

There was no audiobook edition of Boy’s Life until Simon & Schuster Audio produced this downloadable audiobook, available from iTunes, Audible, etc. As far as I can tell it’s not available to purchase on CD. You might also be able to borrow it through your public library audiobook download service! Listen to a 2-minute sample here, or a 5-minute sample here.

Boy’s Life
McCammon, Robert
Newbern, George, narrator
Simon Audio, October 2014
9781442374621, MP3 download
20 hours, 4 minutes

Disclosure: I received a free digital download from the publisher for review purposes.

In Revere in These Days: Vatican Waltz by Roland Merullo @RolandMerullo @CrownPublishing

cover imageIn his latest novel, Vatican Waltz, author Roland Merullo toys with ideas about the institution of the Catholic Church, but much less playfully than he speculated on spirituality in Breakfast with Buddha, where Otto Ringling – a staid, Midwestern-born book editor – ends up on a road trip with a New Age-style monk, Volvo Rinpoche (pronounced Rin-po-shay).

Vatican Waltz is the story of the spiritual journey of Cynthia Piantedosi, a devout, motherless, young woman in a close-knit Italian neighborhood of Revere, who grew up in the company of her untalkative, Italian-speaking father and her grandmother, now dead. Spending part of every day praying in various Catholic churches in Boston, Cynthia was known throughout her life to fall into trances that she calls “spells” – sometimes during prayer, sometimes out of the blue – during which she forgets where she is and loses track of time in a kind of spiritual transcendence. These spells bleed into regular life, setting her apart from her peers.

In training to become a nurse after graduating from high school, Cynthia notices she seems to have a healing touch, which she uses unobtrusively to relieve the pain of hospital patients, hiding it from the others on staff, believing it to be related somehow to her powerful and intimate feeling of spiritual connectedness to God.

Eventually, in her early twenties, Cynthia begins to believe that God may be calling her to become a priest. Although worried about the state of the Catholic Church in America and the loss of faith that many started to feel in its leaders, Cynthia counts herself a faithful Catholic, so it is only after lengthy consultations with her beloved parish priest and spiritual advisor, Father Alberto, that she accepts that this is what God is telling her and also that she needs to take it up with men higher up in the hierarchy than Father Alberto, who believes Cynthia will end up going to Rome with her problem.

“The spells and visions were something I’d been living with for so long that they felt as much a part of me as my hair and hands, and it simply wasn’t in my nature to lift my head above the tide of everyday-ness. I was very much like my father in that way: he did his work and came home. He didn’t make any trouble, as if he believed that there were always snipers in the neighborhood and to lift your face above the wall everyone else crouched behind was to invite a bullet. But it was more than that. Most of my young feistiness – most, not all – had, over the years of visions and prayer, been rubbed smooth like a stone’s sharp edges in surf. I was borne along in a near-constant peacefulness…The last thing I wanted was fuss or confrontation.”

Reading Vatican Waltz as I did, so soon after listening to the audiobook edition of Breakfast with Buddha, I’m not sure how accurately the author has created the interior voice of a young woman. There were many passages in Vatican Waltz (such as the above one) that I could clearly hear in my imagination the middle-aged, male narrator of Breakfast with Buddha – Otto Ringlingsaying in the exact same words. (I suppose one could argue that spirituality has no gender, so it would make sense that Cynthia and Otto share patterns of thought, although starting from very different places, and that it’s not just the same author’s voice coming through in both narratives.)

Vatican Waltz was long in the making. The Revere setting seemed slightly behind the times to me, with this coming-of-age story supposed to be taking place after the clergy sexual abuse scandal and the move of the Boston archdiocesan office out of the city to the suburban town of Braintree. (In his acknowledgments at the end of the book, the author states that there were a number of major revisions over a period of years.) The novel will probably be controversial if, as a work of literary fiction, it gains much attention at all. (Interestingly, although Vatican Waltz was released by Crown, the author will publish his future books with a new, independent Massachusetts publisher, PFP Publishing – a company that is also reissuing some of the author’s older, out-of-print titles.) Vatican Waltz takes a thoughtful, seemingly reluctant, oppositional stance to some of the basic tenets of the Catholic Church. It reminded me in some ways of Faith by Ann Patchett, and I’m interested to see what reviewers have to say about it.

I am a big fan of Roland Merullo’s writing, so this review may be biased, but Vatican Waltz is a tough one to review without giving away too much of the action of the story. There actually isn’t much action; it’s almost entirely interior monologue. So, watch out for spoilers, even in the publisher’s description.

Vatican Waltz
Merullo, Roland
Dec. 3, 2013
304 pp.

Disclosure: I received an advance reading copy of Vatican Waltz from the publisher through NetGalley, but didn’t finish it before it expired, so I purchased a Nook Book edition for myself.

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The Wising Off that Comes with Age: Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris (Audio) @HachetteAudio

cover image of audiobookLet’s Explore Diabetes with Owls, the latest collection of humorous essays by David Sedaris, should win back all of the author’s fans who didn’t like his foray into fables, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk.

Read by the author, Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls has 20 essays in all, some of which were previously recorded in front of an audience. Some of the essays appeared in print in The New Yorker magazine and maybe elsewhere, but they really do seem funnier when the author reads them in his dryly knowing, who-me? voice.

As a humorist, David Sedaris has a definite liberal bias, but politics is very rarely the subject of an essay, except as it relates to health care, President Barack Obama, and marriage laws. These are subjects in the titles of some of the essays, but the subjects of most of the essays are the author’s own experiences, or as they would be if they had all taken place on days when everything struck him as being highly significant or indicative of a universal truth, while being, at the same time, extremely annoying.

In Obama!!!!! the author, an American living in England with his partner Hugh, describes the experience of traveling in Europe after the 2008 election of President Obama and hearing “Obama!!!!” from everyone he meets, including shop clerks and waiters. At first, he doesn’t mind being constantly congratulated on his country’s behavior, and smiles along at the constant cry of “Obama!!!!!”, but after a while, he starts to tire of the implication that underlies the surprise and pride that Europeans keep expressing to him – that America, as a country, had been thought too immature, too ignorant, and too racist to elect a black president, but look! they did it!

At the end of the book, after the 20 essays, the author includes six monologues that are ostensibly there for teens to perform in their forensics competitions in school, which he included, he says, because he had learned that teens have been using his work to read in front of panels of judges for these competitions. In each of the six monologues, he takes on a different persona, each one more offensive than the last. So these missed the mark for me as comedy, but maybe I took them too seriously.

This collection has several essays dealing with aging, travel, learning foreign languages, doing book tours, and living abroad. It also includes a special addition to the audio edition of Pimsleur phrases in Japanese that were not taught on the Pimsleur language learning CDs.

If you’ve enjoyed other David Sedaris audiobook collections in the past, you will probably enjoy this one. If not, probably not. If you’ve never listened to any before, I would recommend starting with one of the earlier collections, maybe Holidays on Ice or Naked, to get a feel for his humor and the personality he takes on in his essays (which I assume is a more highly concentrated version of his own actual personality).

Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls
Sedaris, David
Narrated by the author
Hachette Audio
April 2013
$29.98 US/$32.98 CAN
7 hours on 6 CDs

Disclosure: I borrowed this audiobook from the public library.

Sound Bytes badgeThis review is linked up to Sound Bytes, a weekly link-up of audiobook reviews at Devourer of Books.