Tuesday, March 15, 2011
About a month and a half ago, Books Babes and Bordeaux spent an evening talking with Tatjana Soli about her book "The Lotus Eaters". In this discussion, Tatjana mentioned several books that she has enjoyed recently, and this was one of them (she ranked it significantly higher than Freedom!). I'd already heard about the book in various reviews, and it consistently ended up on the "Best of" lists for 2010. I didn't need much arm-twisting, and I was thrilled when I saw that my library had it on audio.
I didn't start it without reservation though. Carrie (from Books and Movies) told me she had a hard time with the audio, I'd heard about its crazy, non-linear plot, and there was something about a PowerPoint presentation? I said to myself "THIS is going to be interesting. An experiment on the limits of my beloved audiobooks."
Synopsis: At the heart of this twisty-turny, meandering exploration of the music business and the six degrees of separation between us all *pause for a breath* lies Sasha, and her boss Bennie. Sasha is a once-runaway, now-kleptomaniac that works for a recording studio as an assistant to Bennie Salazar, who puts gold flakes in his coffee. She is on a date with a guy who she sorta likes, but has never gotten over an old flame. She has issues. She is working on them.
Flash sideways, and we learn about Bennie, recently and bitterly divorced and trying to connect with his son, and eventually does by sharing some of his gold flakes with him. Bennie thinks back to the glory days, when music was music, and when heaven was hanging with his band mates in high school.
Flash back to Bennie's youth, narrated by one of Bennie's band mates Rhea. We learn about the dynamics of the group, and about how another one of the band mates and Rhea's best friend just hooked up with a sleazy record producer three times her age.
Flash back to a safari trip that the sleazy record producer took with all of his kids and current girlfriend to Africa, narrated by the girlfriend. Flash forward to find out where everyone in the party ended up thirty years later.
And so it goes. Egan develops each character so thoroughly, with so much interesting detail (gold flakes? runaway? bitter divorce? rape charges? publicity for a dictator?) that you can't help but ask "I wonder what THAT story is all about?". From your lips to Egan's ears, my curious friends. And the world is such a small place that connections are everywhere. Connections that are too coincidental to be believed sometimes, but they are there, like little invisible threads, connecting us all to Kevin Bacon and each other.
The theme of each tale, in one form or another, is that "time is a goon". Time plays tricks on our memories, changes us physically and mentally, sometimes for the good and sometimes for the bad. The key is how we deal with that goon. Will we adapt, or will we get left behind?
My thoughts: OK that synopsis was freaking hard to do. So in a nutshell...music industry, connections, time. Developed characters, tragic characters, characters that mature and ones that do not. Smart dialogue. Music references. Unique approaches to narration. A wackadoo timeline. And people, it was fun in fifty different ways.
I had NO IDEA at first what was going on. We kept skipping from character to character, flashing forward, backwards and sideways. But after a few chapters, I started to get into it. I started to listen to the current story, and had a ball guessing which minor character within it would be the next feature.
Often a book will have a unique hook. The story is told backwards. Or maybe the story is narrated by Death, a dead girl or a dog. This book had so many hooks I can't even count. First, just the non-linear structure was a wild ride. I felt like I was skipping around randomly on God's Great Gant Chart of Life. I had no idea where the story was taking me, and I treated each disc like a big surprise. Forest Gump's box of chocolates even.
Egan also occasionally gives us a fast-forward glimpse into certain character's futures. This boy will grow up unhappy and kill himself before he turns 30. That character will mellow out, marry her college sweetheart and have three kids. I've seen this trick before, but it never ceases to delight me to be at the receiving end of a fortune-teller's knowledge.
A story is told through a report written by a celebrity journalist. A story is written as a "PowerPoint slide diary" by a 12 year-old girl about her slightly confused family and her brother's struggle with autism, and his obsession with pauses within rock and roll songs. (They pulled it off incredibly in the audio. You have to hear it to believe it.)
It is clever. It is masterful. You've never read anything quite like it. It's going on my 2011 favorites list, right at the top.
A word about the audio production: Roxana Ortega is our narrator for this audiobook, someone I could have SWORN I'd heard before. But according to my search she is new to the industry. She does have an impressive resume that includes film, TV and theater, however, and it shows. She rocked this production, and I'd listen to her anytime.
5 out of 5 stars