Jenni Laidman rounds up three fiction audiobook worth checking out.
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By Wilton Barnhardt, read by Scott Shepherd
A Macmillan Audiobook from St. Martin's Press
"Lookaway, Lookaway" is the Dixie of debutante balls and old family money, seasoned with the disappearance of said fortune, occasional drunken interfamily malice, sincere piety and its ridicule — and secrets, secrets and more secrets. Altogether, it's a delicious romp with a dysfunctional Southern Family — is there any other kind in literature? Jerene Jarvis Johnston, a steel magnolia if ever there was one, is doing her level best to hold onto tradition and respectability without an ounce of family cooperation. Her husband, Duke, abandons the practice of law to devote his life to a little-remembered Civil War skirmish. Her brother, Gaston, an author of popular Civil War novels — and some of the most wicked insults ever uttered — is a study in loathing of self and others. Jerene's children have even less connection to the Southern traditions that mean so much to Jerene. By focusing on each family member in turn, Barnhardt unwinds the Jarvis Johnston legacy. The only weak moment is the opening — the story of youngest daughter Jerilyn's first weeks in college — a sort of "I Am Charlotte Simmons," with Charlotte played by a paper doll. But hang in there. It's worth the wading. Narrator Scott Shepherd conjures this rich cast with distinctive voices. His excellent performance aside, it's hard not to feel that the strong and complex women the story portrays deserved an accompanying female narrator.
By Colum McCann, narrated by Geraldine Hughes
Random House Audio
10 hours, 46 minutes
A peripatetic journey across generations and an ocean traces the life of housemaid Lily Duggan and her descendants from the 19th century to the present. Author Colum McCann presents an oddly effective sidelong portrait, revealing the family by focusing on the moments in which it rubbed against history — or, more often, merely glanced off history as it passed. Lily's story begins with an account of Ireland during the potato famine through the eyes of Frederick Douglass. A vignette about American negotiator Sen. George Mitchell recounts the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which brought an end to The Troubles in Northern Ireland. And perhaps best of all is the heart-in-the-throat tale of the first nonstop TransAtlantic flight by British aviators Arthur Brown and Jack Alcock in 1919. Narrator Geraldine Hughes' measured reading is pitch perfect, if a little too stately. (If you're listening on a device that allows it, consider speeding her narration a tad.) The book is among 13 long-listed for the British Man Booker literary prize, and one of only five long-listers available in the United States. McCann's "Let the Great World Spin" — with similarly peripatetic plotting — won the 2009 National Book Award. "TransAtlantic" is the more remarkable feat: oceanic in scope yet subtly told.
"A Tale for the Time Being"
By Ruth Ozeki, narrated by Ruth Ozeki
14 hours, 48 minutes
Ruth and Oliver live on an island in British Columbia with their cat, Schrödinger. Let the cat's name serve as a warning. What's about to happen isn't mere deus ex machina; it's physics, where parallel worlds and quantum entanglement carry the burden of resolving difficulties across time and continents. Ruth, a blocked novelist, is swept into the fate of a 16-year-old Japanese girl when she finds the girl's diary washed up on the beach. The diary recounts the isolation and shocking, brutal bullying to which teenage Nao is subject when she returns to Japan after her father loses his job in the California tech industry. Nao is further victimized by parental helplessness. The only adult who offers any succor is her great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun, who provides another avenue for mystic conflict resolution. While the story is often gripping and disturbing, and Nao a beguiling character, the resolution is weighed down by lots of talky explanation among very smart people who do not struggle against the occasional quantum leap to explain life events. The author's narration, which sounds like a children's book reading at the outset, improves over the story's course. This is Ozeki's third novel. She is also a filmmaker and Buddhist priest. "A Tale for the Time Being" is one of 13 novels on the long list for the Man Booker Prize, which will be announced Oct. 15.