by Jennifer Egan, June 2010, AudioCD 10 hours and 8 minutes
Read by Roxena Ortega
For those who read and love characters this book is a treasure
This is a different type of story, not a traditional novel more than a series of short stories, centered on a group of characters loosely connected to the music business. Their lives are played out over time, not necessarily in linear order and we are treated to viewing the effects of the passage of time – the goon - on their lives, values and relationships.
The story is told over a 50 year time span that begins in the San Francisco punk rock scene in the 1970s and ends in a slightly dystopian future in 2020. We meet Bennie when he is a teenage musician in SF, then in his prime as a successful music producer, see him again when he is a washed up 40 year old trying to connect with his young son and finally as a 70 something having one last hurrah producing a show starring his teenage band mate Scotty.
Sasha the other main character has worked as Bennie’s assistant. We meet her as a 30 year old with psychological issues that include kleptomania, then learn her back-story as a child of a violent relationship, see her in Naples as a lost teenager, then as a college student trying to talk her best friend out of suicide, and finally as middle aged mom with two young children.
Egan introduces other memorable characters, giving them their own chapters and then polishing their stories with short references in other chapters. The characters are the strength of this story and they are memorable. Lou, the successful record producer who does cocaine and chases teenage girls around SF. Dolly the PR executive who loses her business after a devastating fire and returns to rehabilitate the image of a genocidal African dictator. Ted, Sasha’s uncle caught in a loveless marriage who travels to Naples ostensibly to find her but is obsessed with the art there. Jules, Bennie’s brother-in-law, a journalist who during an interview with a starlet inexplicitly attacks her, goes to prison for his crime, rehabilitates and ends up writing stories about Bennie’s washed up protégé. Egan uses modern technology to tell her story, including a PowerPoint presentation from Sasha’s daughter and texting.
This plot summary makes this story sound disjointed and one dimensional and the book is anything but that. Her prose is simple and well structured, a pleasure to read. These characters walk off the page into your mind if not exactly into your heart. For those of us who read and love characters this book is a treasure. Told in an unconventional way Egan has a talent for developing characters that are deeply and fully realized. The overarching theme of the novel, the effects of time on people, relationships and values is captured wonderfully. While none of the characters are particularly inspiring and most come to unremarkable ends, the brilliant prose prevents this story from being depressing.
I listened to this novel on audio CDs and I was worried that I would not be able to flip back and reread a section to keep everyone straight in this complex story but that wasn’t the case, it really flowed well. The story was read by the talented Roxena Ortega. She was able to differentiate these characters well and reliably reproduce their voices over all of the chapters. I believe this book would be just as enjoyable read as listened to.
I listened to this novel on Audio CDs borrowed from The Free Library of Philadelphia