As is so often the case in life, sometimes an idea is better than the execution. A slew of audiobooks set in this reviewer's home state of Massachusetts looked like a good bet. It turns out, however, the odds were not in our favor.
The most brutal of the three is Howie Carr's deconstruction of ``The Brothers Bulger." For those not in the know, James ``Whitey" Bulger is a gangster who had an in with the FBI for years. They used him as an informant, and he was allowed to commit horrific acts because he was ratting on his associates. His brother, William Bulger, was head of the state Senate and former president of the University of Massachusetts.
Carr is a well-known, though not necessarily well-liked, writer and radio personality in Boston who has long clashed with the Bulgers, so it is no surprise that this is a very negative bio. Of course, there's not much estimable to say about Whitey, but after a while the laundry list of his gruesome crimes wears one down. And his brother may well have been the ``corrupt midget," as dubbed by a judge, but those of us who grew up in Boston also remember Billy Bulger as having done much for the city, though this is never mentioned by Carr. It isn't difficult to be harsh when writing about a violent gangster such as Whitey. His brother, however, may have been known for his nepotism and cronyism, but he also kept the libraries afloat and made sure money was directed to education.
Michael Prichard sounds like a radio announcer. Though professional and never unpleasant, he also is less than exciting and does nothing to enhance this overtly negative audio. Perhaps someone will write a more evenhanded account of this fascinating family someday, because this good brother-bad brother scenario really is the stuff of old movies.
Also disappointing, but for different reasons, is ``Wickett's Remedy." Expectations were high for Myla Goldberg's sophomore novel after ``Bee Season" won much acclaim.
Lydia Kilkenny is a South Boston shopgirl who marries a neurotic medical student from a wealthy family in 1914. Lydia concocts a tonic that she markets with her new husband, taking her away from the path she foresaw as a doctor's wife. The First World War and the flu pandemic of 1918 change her life immeasurably, after which her tonic takes on a life of its own.
As a social history this is interesting enough to keep us engaged, but Goldberg employs a Greek chorus of ghosts who comment on the living but add very little depth or information to the novel. After a while this conceit becomes too precious.
Clearly Goldberg did her research, as the historical background is detailed, and she certainly deserves credit for trying to sidestep formula.
However, the ending is too subtle to feel conclusive and the production never moves much past mediocrity. For one thing, the old Gilchrist's Department Store in Downtown Crossing was not pronounced with a long I.
The author is a fine narrator with a decent voice and matter-of-fact delivery that works well for the protagonists. However, the use of many voices for all of the filler Goldberg stuffed into the novel quickly becomes confusing, and the occasional special effects are hokey.
``A Wedding in December" is a pleasant little novel from an author who can do better, read straightforwardly and pleasantly by Linda Emond.
Seven prep school pals meet for a wedding in the Berkshire Hills 26 years after graduation. There are simmering resentments, passions long held in check, and navel-gazing all around.
Anita Shreve is a talented writer, so she keeps us interested, but only at a level that could be called ``beach listening." The storyline is derivative and because there are so many plot threads, it all gets a little convoluted and confusing. As Emond reads this with the same voice throughout, it occasionally takes a minute or two to realize which character is speaking. Fragments of music help to break up segments and the production sounds great, but it's too bad this isn't a little meatier.
Rochelle O'Gorman is publisher and editor-in-chief of audiobookcafe.com, an online magazine featuring daily reviews, interviews, and articles about the audiobook industry.