Sunday, September 19, 2010
Why I Love Narrators: Part 1
If I haven't mentioned before how often, in the course of casting 30 or more books a months, our narrators pull my sorry, inefficient b*tt out of the fire, now would be as good a time as any.
Here's this week's example:
When Bo Caldwell's City of Tranquil Light landed on my desk over a month ago, I took a couple of shots at reading it, but I always got interrupted by something urgent and never got a chance to delve into it as deeply as I wanted to. To judge by the opening chapter, it appeared straightforward enough: An old man reminisces about his life as a missionary in China--how he left his life as a midwestern farmer to pursue a calling, how he met his wife in China and how much they both loved their adopted homeland. But I knew there was more. Caldwell's previous novel, The Distant Land of Our Fathers, was based on family experiences and had profound spiritual aspects, and some research told me that she is considered a lyrical writer and masterful storyteller. I yearned to get a better handle on it so I could do it justice. But as the production deadline loomed and I started running out of time, I made a logical, if hasty, choice. I decided to send it to Bronson Pinchot.
If you aren't yet familiar with Bronson's narration work, you should be. He has an exceptional ability to adapt himself to just about any sort of book you can think of, from sardonic humor (The Learners) to vampire-laced thrillers (Blood Oath) to taut war dramas (Matterhorn). I've also been struck by the fact that each author he encounters (and he's not shy about contacting them) thinks that he's the PERFECT narrator for their book. Being an exceptionally well-read person, he's acutely sensitive to the style and tone of a book. And if you've seen his work on stage or in film, you know that he's preternaturally quick on his feet. It's not that his approach changes drastically from book to book--it's just that he puts all his energy into serving the text in detailed and nuanced ways.
So I figured if anyone could help me out here, it would be Bronson. Imagine my relief when I received this email:
"You mentioned being slightly on the fence about the book...it is STUNNING. Takes her 90 pages to get going, which is, admittedly, a lot. Yesterday read the diary entries of a young couple slowly watching their baby die and wept through the whole thing, quite restrainedly of course, but it was perfect for the tone of the writing. The book is a watercolor masterpiece.
If anyone wants to know what I think audiobook narrating is about, this pretty well sums it up. Here's someone who's frankly assessing the mechanical challenges of the material, but completely giving himself over to the emotional and intellectual rewards found therein. And it's reassuring to hear him pat himself on the back a bit--it tells me he thought about his choices and likes what he's done.
Best of all, he's done a huge part of my job for me--the part I wish I had more time for! How grateful should I be for that?
Now I want to listen to it--don't you?
Bo Caldwell's City of Tranquil Light pubs September 28th.