Audiobook Review: It Happened in Boston?

It Happened in Boston?

It Happened in Boston?
By Russell H. Greenan
Introduction by Jonathan Letham
Narrated by Robert Fass
Ⓟ 2014, Blackstone Audio
11.00 hours
PSYCHOLOGICAL THRILLER

By many accounts, the story of what happened in Boston falls into the genre of Speculative Fiction. After all, very early on in the book, it is revealed that the protagonist of the narrative is a time traveler! Yet, it is equally apparent as the story unfolds that time travel is not the main thrust of the story; nor are the crime, horror, or philosophical elements, so the book is disqualified from being catalogued into those genres as well. Why not just label it as “Fiction” and leave it at that? Because it is much more than an imagined story of what happens to a painter as he rises in his career arc before he is shattered by a tragic event. It is the story about his acute perceptions as an artist as he shifts his focus to the surreal even as his corporeal world falls apart.

The unnamed artist tells his story from the first person POV, luring the listener into his tale: How his DaVinci-like skills brought him lucrative commissions, and how his best friends from the academy fared as well; How a tragic event started to unravel his reality as he searched out God Himself for a showdown; and the occult things he did in this quest…

The style of the narrative has its precedents in Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House and in Patricia Highsmith’s short story collection, Eleven. The narrator, absolute in his convictions and reasonable in tone, starts becoming unreliable in credibility; and the things he does become a matter of morbid fascination. The listener is swept up into the intimacy of the artist’s world as it narrows in scope down to a park bench in the Commons or his now-seedy apartment with its menacing pigeons on the window ledge.

Written in 1968 and contemporary to its time, the listener might expect it to feel dated. While there is a decided old-fashioned sense to the scenes, like diners with sugar bowls, and a lack of twenty-first century technology like smartphones, the story is so richly and realistically depicted that the listener is “present” as much as the artist.

Robert Fass is the audiobook narrator for “Boston.” His style is very mannered, but not affected and serves the language intelligently. The book warrants no less. It is not a slapdash adventure with vocabulary of middle grade complexity; but a rich and sophisticated feast of words that paints pictures, even as the artist in the story paints his portraits. Fass’ style is complimentary to the novel’s voice, clear and direct even as the protag’s vision becomes less so.

Final notes about the overall production: There is an Introduction written by Jonathan Letham extolling Greenan’s ability to conjure the beauty of a fictional painting; but which also includes a major spoiler to the story. I would highly recommend skipping the Introduction (the first 7 minutes, 13 seconds of the audio after the opening credits) and listening to it after the story is over. There is also an Afterword by the author which talks about the difficulty in classifying the novel, and how it came to be written and received. Between the end of the story and the Afterword, I really wished there had been more of a pause, or an indication that the narrative was at an end so I could have savored the listening experience. The ending is powerful and deserves a moment or two to soak it all in before being hurled back into the real world.

It Happened in Boston? deserves more than to be relegated to the obscurity of a backlist. It’s a classic in its own right.

MORE:

EDIT: 22FEB2015: Added link to Publishers Weekly review

OTHER: I dnloaded a digital copy of It Happened in Boston? (by Robert H. Greenan, with an Introduction by Jonathan Letham; narrated by Robert Fass) from Blackstone Audio/downpour.com. I receive no monies, goods or services in exchange for reviewing the product and/or mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post.

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Armchair Audies: Humor: Winner

There were five finalists to judge in the category of Humor. Each title below links to my review of that title:

01. The Stench of Honolulu: A Tropical Adventure (by Jack Handey; Narrated by Jack Handey; Hachette Audio)
02. Someone Could Get Hurt: A Memoir of Twenty-First-Century Parenthood (by Drew Magary; Narrated by Drew Magary; Penguin Audio) 
03. Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls (by David Sedaris; Narrated by David Sedaris; Hachette Audio) 
04. How I Slept My Way to the Middle: Secrets and Stories from Stage, Screen, and Interwebs (by Kevin Pollak with Alan Goldsher; Narrated by Kevin Pollak; Brilliance Audio)

Of the five titles two made me laugh: 

  1. Someone Could Get Hurt: A Memoir of Twenty-First-Century Parenthood (by Drew Magary; Narrated by Drew Magary; Penguin Audio) and; 
  2. Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls (by David Sedaris; Narrated by David Sedaris; Hachette Audio.)

But whatever good will that I might have had for Someone Could Get Hurt was nullified by the chapter about “a particularly difficult incident” so the winner of the Armchair Audies 2014 in the Humor category is:

                       

 🙂

OTHER: I receive no monies, goods or services in exchange for reviewing the product and/or mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post.

Audiobook Review: Still Foolin’ ‘Em

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Still Foolin’ ‘Em: Where I’ve Been, Where I’m Going, and Where the Hell are My Keys?
Written and narrated by Billy Crystal 
Ⓟ 2013, Macmillan Audio
8.10 hours
HUMOR

Still Foolin’ ‘Em is an autobiography of  Billy Crystal’s career to date as told from the perspective of the 65 year old veteran comic, actor, writer and, producer. Crystal recognized as he was writing the book that some sections would be better presented live for the audiobook edition, so there are chapters which have been recorded in front of an audience. Whether live or from a studio, Crystal’s delivery is fast and his timing well-honed.

This isn’t really a comic album per se. It’s a memoir of a comic who delivers Borscht Belt or Matzoh Ball humor as a part of his personality. It’s interesting and engaging; but if you’re looking for jokes and routines, you’re better off checking out his old performances on television and film.

OTHER: I borrowed a CD edition of Still Foolin’ ‘Em: Where I’ve Been, Where I’m Going, and Where the Hell are My Keys? (Written and narrated by Billy Crystal) from the Jackson County Library System in Oregon. I receive no monies, goods or services in exchange for reviewing the product and/or mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post.

I participating in the Armchair Audies 2014, judging the category of Humor. 

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Audiobook Review: Let’s Talk About Diabetes with Owls

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Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls
Written and narrated by David Sedaris 
Ⓟ 2013, Hachette Audio
8.10 hours
HUMOR

If humor is a house built on the foundations of pain, David Sedaris has built a comfortable home. Sedaris presents 26 stand-alone comic compositions, ranging from the autobiographical to the fictional – all reflecting Sedaris’ keen sense of irony tempered by a softly cynical wit. Sedaris alludes to outrageous and embittering experiences & situations that have been mitigated in their virulence by over-long familiarity, the passage of time and, a sense of humor that mocks the absurdities of life. 

For those unfamiliar with Sedaris’ humor, it is is like being stung by a bee even as you eat the honey. There is an underlying tone of causticity even as you recognize the ridiculousness of the the situation at hand. If you are a homophobe, politically right-of-center and/or dress badly, you may feel more of the sting than the taste of the honey; but Sedaris is no less valid or funny for all that.

The whole of the audiobook is remarkable for its ambition in bringing in a number of different sessions of varying sound levels & qualities from different venues & studios, as well as Andrew Bird’s interstitial music and an exclusive bonus track for audiobook listeners. Some of the “comic essays” are performed live before an audience while others are read in a studio; and in each case Sedaris has a great sense of timing and seeming intimacy with his listeners whether they are immediately present or not.  Andrew Bird’s haunting gypsy string style music is fantastic, though it is unclear what the relationship between the music has with the material.

OTHER: I borrowed a CD edition of Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls (Written and narrated by David Sedaris) from the Jackson County Library System in Oregon. I receive no monies, goods or services in exchange for reviewing the product and/or mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post.

I am participating in The Armchair Audies 2014, judging the category of Humor.

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Audiobook Review: How I Slept My Way to the Middle

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How I Slept My Way to the Middle: Secrets and Stories from Stage, Screen and, the Interwebs

Written by Kevin Pollak and Alan Goldsher; narrated by Kevin Pollak 

Ⓟ 2013, Brilliance Audio

8.10 hours

Kevin Pollak’s career as an entertainer – comic, impersonator, show host, and actor – is the subject matter for this memoir. Whatever his merits are, his performance as an audiobook narrator are underwhelming. The storytelling and impersonations in are ill-timed and mostly weak respectively. Perhaps Pollak’s talents are best appreciated live and onscreen.

In Neil Genzlinger’s piece in the New York Time’s Sunday Book Review, “The Problem with Memoirs” (January 28, 2011,) Genzlinger advises that  “If you’re jumping on a bandwagon, make sure you have better credentials than the people already on it.” The story of Kevin Pollak’s life story and that of Billy Crystal’s (Still Foolin’ ‘Em) are remarkably similar: A Jewish boy discovers that he can get attention by being funny, impersonates a famous black person, performs at a Bar Mitzvah in front of his family and friends and Boom! a star is born! Except, the trajectory of Pollak’s career obviously arced lower than Billy Crystal’s – demonstrating that it takes more than skill, talent and ambition; but also a certain kind of luck. Pollak’s narrative lacks the vitality and timing and might have benefitted from performing some of his material live; but what couldn’t be fixed is that, despite being the narrative of an individual’s life, the events that served as plot points weren’t particularly unique or better than those of his contemporaries. 

How I Slept My Way to the Middle is a reality-based book that, notwithstanding being a memoir of a comic, isn’t especially interesting, much less funny. Personally, I couldn’t hack more than a couple of hours before I DNF-ed this audiobook out of boredom.

From Kevin Pollak’s YouTube channel, Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show. Pollak is apparently famous for his Christopher Walken impersonation:

ARMCHAIR AUDIES RANKINGS*:

  1. The Stench of Honolulu (written and narrated by Jack Handey)
  2. How I Slept My Way to the Middle (written by Kevin Pollak and Alan Goldsher; narrated by Kevin Pollak)
  3. Someone Could Get Hurt (written and narrated by Drew Magary)

OTHER: I borrowed a CD edition of How I Slept My Way to the Middle: Secrets and Stories from Stage, Screen and, the Interwebs
(Written by Kevin Pollak and Alan Goldsher; narrated by Kevin Pollak)
 from the Jackson County Library System in Oregon. I receive no monies, goods or services in exchange for reviewing the product and/or mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post.

* I am participating in the Armchair Audies 2014, judging the category of Humor.

Audiobook Review: Someone Could Get Hurt

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Someone Could Get Hurt: A Memoir of 21st Century Parenthood 
Written and Narrated by Drew Magary
Ⓟ 2013, Penguin Audio
4.80 hours
HUMOR

Someone Could Get Hurt is a reality-based book about Drew Magary’s experiences as a father as he struggles with the challenge of being a selfish prick at the same time. There are moments in this memoir of honesty, tenderness and even some humor, but it all comes at a cost. All parents make mistakes and it takes courage to admit them, but even if even a fraction of what Margary wrote is true when he reacted to his little girl in “a particularly difficult incident”*, the listener’s response can only be one of sickening revulsion. While he doesn’t play this section for laughs, there is an implicit tone suggesting, “What parent hasn’t lost their shit and done something heinous to their kids? It’s a horrible thing that happened, but it’s okay! It happens! The kids are resilient!” Hmmm… Let’s just say I vehemently disagree and this one section negates any positive feelings I had for this book altogether.

Technically, there was nothing wrong with the recording itself: The production values were solid. Authors narrating their own memoirs is appropriate and; Margary’s skill in delivering the material was well-paced, clear and genuine in feeling.

The following YouTube clip from Penguin Book USA’s channel makes the book seem rather cute. Needless to say, it does not include a reenactment of “a particularly difficult incident.”

* ‘Someone Could get Hurt’ By Drew Magary: All I Ever Want As A Parent (EXCERPT) –  In this article, Magary makes it seem that the only thing he did to his daughter was spank her. It should be noted that in the book, he recounts that he also screamed into her face, hit her and threw her into a cold shower.

ARMCHAIR AUDIES** RANKINGS:

  1. The Stench of Honolulu  (written and narrated by Jack Handey
  2. Someone Could Get Hurt  (written and narrated by Drew Margary)

OTHER: I dnloaded a digital copy of Someone Could Get Hurt (written and narrated by Drew Margary) from downpour.com. I receive no monies, goods or services in exchange for reviewing the product and/or mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post.

** I am participating the Armchair Audies, judging the Humor category.  image

Audiobook Review: The Stench of Honolulu

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The Stench of Honolulu: A Tropical Adventure 

Written and Narrated by Jack Handey

Ⓟ 2013 Hachette Audio

3.25 hours

“Wrong Way Slurps,” is the unreliable and unlikable narrator of this tale of a treasure hunt set in Hawaii. Hoping to sidestep The Pringle Brothers – the loan sharks  to whom he owes money and, taking advantage of a fortuitous invitation extended by his friend, Don, Wrong Way Slurps sets off on a puerilely funny adventure.

The Stench of Honolulufeatures the signature deadpan voice of Jack Handey. Arguably best known for his contributions to Saturday Night Live in the form of “Deep Thoughts,” the author/narrator sticks to what he knows: crafting series of lines to be delivered in under one minute. In this case, hundreds of these lines are stitched together loosely over the course of over three hours to create an offbeat story. 

The Stench of Honolulu is low comedy and will probably finds its best audience amongst those who delight in farce. The clip below comes from Jack Handey’s Youtube channel and is actually a sample from the book that serves fairly well as an indicator as to whether this book might be for you: 


 

Though The Stench of Honolulu did not appeal to my sense of humor, it was still a well executed production and, it was the only finalist in the Audies category of Humor* that was 100% created, original comic material (i.e. not a memoir or heavily autobiographical.) While author narrations are usually suspect, in this case Jack Handey was the best choice to deliver his trademark style and there is admirable consistency in his delivery.

OTHER: I dnloaded a digital copy of The Stench of Honolulu: A Tropical Advenure (written and narrated by Jack Handey) from downpour.com. I receive no monies, goods or services in exchange for reviewing the product and/or mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post.

* I am participating the Armchair Audies, judging the Humor category.  

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