By Toni Morrison
Read by the author
Random House AudioBooks
Unabridged, four cassettes
6 hrs., $25.95
Toni Morrison truly understands the power of language. Many readers know her written work, but in this recording of her 1973 novel, she reveals another dimension of her art. She uses the spoken word to present her stunning visual images.
Most books read by their authors are their most recent work. It's quite unusual for an author to record a book that is not new, hence this recording is a gem. Her smooth, mellifluous voice honors each sound and distinctly expresses each image. The smoothness of her voice draws the listener to complete attention.
"Sula" is the story of two women, Sula and Nel. It begins with their girlhood friendship, their families and the events that shaped their lives. Morrison describes the "squinty" town of Medallion. She communicates to listeners the deep attachments held for this land, sold as the "bottom of heaven" when, in fact, it was a wasteland on top of a hill. Her voice creates a sense of magical realism.
10 Lb. Penalty, By Dick Francis
Read by Martin Jarvis
Putnam Berkley Audio $17.95
Two cassettes, 3 hrs. abridged
One of the great joys of Dick Francis's English horse-racing novels is his changing array of characters. In "10 LB. Penalty" the focus is George Julian, a rising political star, whose son, Benedict, passionately wants to pursue a career as an amateur jockey.
Listeners are treated to a wonderful performance by British actor Martin Jarvis, acclaimed for his readings of Francis's work in the UK. Jarvis presents the trainers, race officials and horse owners as old friends. The political twist gives him more characters on which to work his magic.
Jarvis quickly and succinctly sets the scene, establishing each character with a deft narrative touch. He delivers a diversity of accents and voices that subtly identify and distinguish members of Julian's local constituency and his political rivals. The tension between father and son, a central element of the story, is astutely balanced. Here, a longer abridgment would be welcome to make the rapid rise of George Julian from his first election to his arrival at 10 Downing Street more believable.
Seeing A Large Cat
By Elizabeth Peters
Read by Barbara Rosenblat
Recorded Books, $17.50 (Rental)
10 cassettes, 14.75 hrs. Unabridged
Egyptologist Amelia Peabody Emerson, her husband/scholar, Radcliffe Emerson, and son, Ramses, have quite a loyal following of their escapades in Egypt, as they ferret out impostors and criminals all the while conducting archaeological excavations. Author Peters' PhD in egyptology equips her in providing a detail-rich setting of turn-of-the-century archaeology in the Valley of the Kings. In this episode, the Emersons dig next door to Howard Carter's yet undiscovered tomb of Tutankhamen.
The eccentricities of the Emerson family are lavishly and deliciously presented by narrator Barbara Rosenblat. After nine unabridged recordings, Rosenblat has an astute sense of each character, mixing caricature with suspense and wit. She delights listeners with the portraits carefully weaving them throughout the story, while never allowing them to impede the suspense.
Amelia and the inscrutable, unpredictable, and almost-grown Ramses, become partners in solving this mystery involving an American financier, a Southern belle, a spiritualist, and a very un-Egyptian mummy.
Frank Lloyd Wright: The Mike Wallace Interviews
HighBridge Audio, $11
One cassette, 53 min.
These archival interviews were made almost 40 years ago. In the current climate of Wright admiration it stuns the listener to hear Mike Wallace steering the interview with obvious intent to discredit Wright and to show the most inflammatory aspects of the outspoken architect's comments and observations. At the time of the two interviews recorded here, 1957, Wright's visionary but controversial Guggenheim Museum was nearing completion.
Wallace sets out immediately to provoke Wright. Extracting "capsule opinions," he challenges some of Wright's most reactionary views. In the second interview Wallace's tone has changed, acknowledging some of Wright's vision and according him a bit of respect.
Listening to these interviews, one also acknowledges that Wallace's interview style has changed little over the years. One wonders why anyone cared what Wright thought about Charlie Chaplin's politics or his views on death when his architecture went unappreciated for much of his lifetime.
All Over But The Shoutin'
By Rick Bragg
Read by the author
Random House AudioBooks, $18
Two cassettes, 3 hrs., abridged
New York Times journalist Rick Bragg has written about Haiti, Susan Smith's murder of her children, and the Oklahoma City bombing, but perhaps his most riveting story is told in this memoir of his family. Raised dirt-poor in the Alabama hills, Bragg pays tribute to the immense sacrifices his mother made for him and his brothers. Bragg's voice shows little emotion as he recounts the devastating circumstances of his drunkard fathers' abandonment and the poverty to which most of his family has stayed confined.
The account of his mother attending the Pulitzer Prize ceremony in which Bragg is honored is a stirring homage to her and to the unconditional support mothers give their children.
* Robin Whitten is the founder and editor of AudioFile, a monthly magazine of reviews and information on audiobooks. For additional information call 800-506-1212 or log on to RAudioFile@ aol.com