Monday, January 14, 2013

The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets by Kathleen Alcott — Audiobook Review

Recorded by Blackstone Audio
Narrated by Carrington MacDuffie
Length: 4 hours 49 minutes


Ida, Jackson, and James all grew up together from the time they were infants, though they are not all siblings. Jackson and James, brothers who live with their irascible mother after their father abandons them, have been joined at the hip to Ida, who lives with her father just next door, a single parent after his wife’s untimely death. The three are inseparable as children, and they do all the typical things that children do together, like snaking through the woods to have rowdy campouts and creating treasure maps on the butcher paper that James and Jackson’s mother pins to the wall. The three grow together, separate roots all growing into one tree, yet as they age, their perspective begins to shift and they begin to see each other in new lights. It is Ida that has the most trouble with the feelings that she experiences, for both Jackson and James are tortured souls: Jackson becoming violent while sleeping and dreaming of the violence of the boys’ father, and James a schizophrenic with a raging drug habit. Though Jackson and James are damaged, Ida finds herself drawn again and again towards one brother while silently being watched by the other. Through the winding vines of innocence, turned to lust and finally abandonment, the three walk through an ever growing strangeness and distance, only to become close and fulfilled in each other time and time again. In this novel of childhood harmony turned to a dangerous and haunting passion, Ida tells her story in bits and pieces, moving smoothly between the past and the present, finally completing the map of three would-be siblings caught in somewhere between unaffected naivety and desperately compelling debauchery.

One day, while blog-hopping, I came across a review of this book written by Wendy at Caribou’s Mom. It made me eager to read the book, because it was so different than any that I had been reading at the time. I  decided to purchase the title on audio and get to it immediately. It was a relatively short book, and I listened to it over a one day period. The problem was that the narrator, Carrington MacDuffie, was not the right choice for this book. Her voice was clinical and at times almost sterile of emotion and nuance. My husband, who was listening over my shoulder, made the same comment about the narrator, inferring that her voice was too placid and  overly monotone. I think that the lack of finesse in the narration left me feeling half full, for I couldn’t properly enjoy the story in the face of the troublesome delivery. I ended up liking the book, but not loving it, due to this factor.

Jackson, James and Ida were interesting characters to get to know. Ida was a little girl who had to have someone to hold onto and later on turned into a woman bearing the same characteristics, which put her in harm’s way more often than not. I agree with Wendy’s assessment that she based her own identity on the brothers, as they both did with her. The three were a very insular group as adolescents and went as far as teasing others who attempted to pry into their little world of three. At first, this seemed like the only way to keep people out, but it later had consequences for Ida. So far removed from any others, these children grew to depend on each other for almost everything, a situation that deeply coalesced as the parents of the tribe came together as well. What once was considered a blended family also became mutated when the three turned into teenagers, and though they were all almost of an age, Ida chose to intensify her relationship with one brother and not the other, causing the three to be split into uneven camps.

This story was not told in a linear manner, which combined with the flat delivery soon began to wear on me. I couldn’t keep up with where the three were chronologically in the tale, and soon I became a bit frustrated. But time after time, I would catch the hook and find my place, and soon become enmeshed again. I really feel as though there were crucial bits of information that were delivered improperly through the narration that kept me from fully connecting with the story that Ida tells. As the story moved forward, I kept wishing that I had read the book instead of listening to it. The full weight of the words was lost on me, whereas on paper, things might have looked and felt a bit different. The tale of the three was indeed compelling, it just wasn’t compelling enough for me to be moved as I had hoped to be.

Some of the things that I did find interesting about this tale were the glimpses into mental illness, the nightmarish struggling of Jackson’s psyche, and the artistic development that came out of it. Ida’s story was one of hope and empathy that moved through an organic arc towards frustration and confusion at the two brothers. They were so different yet still somehow easily similar, though they struggled with different demons. I asked myself a lot of questions while listening to this book, such as: Was the passion between Ida and her choice of brother in a way comparable to incest? Such questions loomed large over the narrative and wormed their way towards me as I listened and considered. Why did she do the things she did when she knew it was painful to both brothers, and even to herself? These thoughts loomed large on my radar, indicating that there was a great book just beneath the tepid narration.

I would recommend this book to lovers of family dramas and to those looking for something off the beaten path, but would be very shy of recommending the audio version because I think it tainted the story. This is a tale that is easily digestible, as it is not a very long book, and I’m eager to hear what more readers think about the experience of reading or listening to it. This was a good and solid read for me, but regrettably, not a great one for reasons mentioned above.

23 comments:

rhapsodyinbooks said...

My husband has been listening over my shoulder to an audiobook I'm listening too and has also complained about the narrator! LOL

Nicole (Linus's Blanket) said...

It's interesting to read your thoughts on the audio and the narrator. I read this is print, and while the story was interesting and I wanted to like it, it fell flat for me. I couldn't quite make a connection to the characters.

Darlene said...

This sounds intriguing and maybe something I'd like. Thanks for reviewing it. I'll have too check it out.

Audra said...

Oh, interesting -- I'll get this in print (I almost never do audio unless I *really* love the narrator) -- although from Nicole's comment, it might just be the book...

Wendy said...

It is so funny how different the experience can be between audio and physical book. I am so sorry that the narrator did not do the book justice because I do feel that the writing in this novel was very good. Thanks for linking to my review!

bermudaonion said...

This sounds very compelling. If I try it, I'll be sure to stick with print.

Jenners said...

I'm learning that a bad narrator can really ruin an audiobook -- and vice versa. I always wonder how things will turn out with my son and the kids he plays with now … will they still be friends? will they date? will they all turn out good? It will be interesting to watch.

Vasilly said...

This book sounds interesting but I'll probably pass. I hate it when the narrator doesn't match the book.

Peppermint Ph.D. said...

I am soooooo grumpy and particular about narrators that I haven't allowed myself to really embrace audiobooks. I still listen, but they are few and far between, and they take me forever :P But, this sounds really intriguing...enough to pick it up in print :)

Suko said...

Thanks for your honest review! Although I'm definitely a novice regarding audiobooks, it sounds as if a bit more expression by the narrator was warranted.

Jenny said...

That's disappointing! Mental health stuff is, of course, interesting to me but incest is always something I have trouble reading about for some reason if this even is remotely like that I'm not sure I'd enjoy it.

Athira said...

This book definitely sounds awesome! I will have to check it out, but I will make sure I don't take the audio. It's disappointing when the narrators don't deliver because most of the time, they can make or break a book.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I appreciate your honesty about your thoughts on the narrator of this book -- for me that can make or break it for me. I do have the eGalley, so I'll try that one. I am a bit curious now.

Thanks for sharing.

Lisa said...

Definitely sounds like one that would benefit from reading - at least then you can flip back and forth to try to find your way again.

Man of la Book said...

Great review.
Do you think the audio added or detracted from you enjoyment?

http://www.ManOfLaBook.com

Harvee Lau said...

Sounds like an intense read. Nice review.

Ti said...

I don't need a story to be told in a linear way but I quickly lose interest if I can't follow the story. Sounds like there was a little bit of that here but not enough to keep you from enjoying it.

Literary Feline said...

Sounds like a good one to read, rather than listen to. Like Ti, I don't mind a story being non-linear but if I can't follow a story, I find my attention wandering.

Jennifer @ Mrs Q Book Addict said...

This one was new for me. Great review!

Care said...

Great! I will seek out the print version then. (I love characters named Ida - stupid reason to instantly be intrigued with a book, but it is what it is.)

Aarti said...

What a great title for a book! Proximal alphabets, huh? I don't even know what that means...

Sorry the audio version didn't work out for you :-( I hate when that happens! I just started the Flavia deLuce series on audiobook, and that has a fantastic narrator.

Marie said...

thanks. you're making me glad i passed on this! :-)

Elizabeth said...

It's interesting just how big an impact the narrator can have on a story. Thanks for your honest review.

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