Reviews: e-books and audiobooks - Still Alice, Anne Tyler, Harry Brandt
A Spool of Blue Thread
by Anne Tyler
(read by Kimberly Farr)
Rumoured to be Anne Tyler's 20th and final novel, A Spool of Blue Thread is an intimate story of family life. It presents the Whitshanks, from the elderly Red and Abby to their four children and a host of grandchildren. The setting for the gently complex interactions is Red and Abby's home in Roland Park. Tyler rewinds to Abby's first visits as a teenager and back to her present struggles to remember where she is or what she's been doing. The comfortable quietude of their life is destroyed by the arrivals of their de facto son, Stem (plus family), and blackish sheep Denny. His hot temper raises the temperature and pushes us to the origins of various disputes, schisms and heartaches. At the centre is Abby, who opens her home and her heart, and tries to look on the bright side even when clouds gather. Kimberly Farr reads with verve. This emphasises Tyler's wit and emotion, which bubbles just below the surface. If this sacrifices some of the subtlety of the writing, that's OK. Tyler is too good for that to vanish entirely.
by Harry Brandt
(read by Ari Fliakos)
Harry Brandt is the latest high-profile crime-writing nom de plume. Hiding behind this particular name is Richard Price, author of the books Clockers and Lush Life, and the screenplay for Martin Scorsese's The Color of Money; he was such an influence on producer David Simon that he was hired to write for The Wire. The Whites is ideally suited to audiobook form. Driven by Price's propulsive way with dialogue, both as a means to create character and advance plot, it centres on Billy Graves, a suitably sombre name for a sombre NYPD detective. Having settled into middle age, Graves is haunted by darker times: the accidental shooting of a child; rivalries with similarly unstable officers (called "Wild Geese"). An unknown foe from the past begins to haunt Graves and his family. Nemeses like him are called "whites" because their cases remain open. Price switches between law and lawlessness, leaving us to wonder which is which. Reader Ari Fliakos sounds the part with his New York tones. Gripping, tough stuff.
by Lisa Genova
Simon & Schuster Audio
I'm not sure I would ever have picked up this book had the incomparable Julianne Moore not won a well-deserved best actress Academy Award this year. Our heroine, the titular Alice Howland, is a Harvard University professor of cognitive psychology - shorthand for someone who knows who they are. Yet in the opening chapters, this sense is slowly eroded by her slow realisation that she is not in control of her body, her mind or her sense of self. At first, it's small things - missing appointments, becoming confused in Harvard Square, a place she knows like the back of her hand. Or, with pathos, knew like the back of her hand. Lisa Genova's triumph is not only in tracing Alice's melancholy descent and its effect on her husband and three children, but also in finding a grim kind of humour as the familiar becomes strange and horrifying. Genova reads herself capably. Her voice is pleasing and clear, but a little undramatic, especially when the drama moves beyond Alice's internal battles. Nevertheless, Still Alice is supremely affecting.