Friday, August 21, 2009

Gnarly dude

Let's not get into where I've been the last ten days ... suffice it to say, it's not pretty. I listened to Surf Mules, by G. Neri, which is the second surfing novel I've ever encountered (the first was In the Break by Jack Lopez). Being that I bring a whole raft of prejudices to stories about boys who patently won't grow up, I'm surprised to say that I enjoyed it (I liked the first one, too). The eponymous mules are Logan and his friend Z-boy, high-school graduate and drop-out respectively, trying to figure out what to do next. A third musketeer, a more successful surfer named Fin -- who had recently distanced himself from Logan and Z-boy, dies in a freak surfing accident as the novel begins.

Logan is approached by Broza, a slightly older drug dealer, with a proposition. With Fin's death, Broza has lost a vital link in his transport network. He wants Logan and Z-boy to reinvent themselves as young Republicans, drive a car loaded with marijuana from California to Florida in three days, and fly the cash payment for the pot back to L.A. They each get to keep some of the cash. Broza wants Logan along to manage Z-boy, a stoner with impulse issues. Logan's reluctant, but he's feeling the pull of his best friend, along with some financial pressures. Surfer dreads shorn, wearing short-sleeve shirts with ties, the boys head off. Their journey doesn't go smoothly -- typically, Z-boy tries to hail some surf Nazis in Texas -- but their friendship seems cemented as they reach Florida. Alas, their journey doesn't end there, as things go terribly wrong and Logan has learned a few more truths before he and Z-boy finally make it back to California.

This is a very engaging road novel (Z-boy even has a little Dean Moriarty in him). The boys greet the dawn high atop a New Mexico dune, smoke dope, eat plenty of fast food and plan for the future (in a stoner, surfer way). I liked steady, loving Logan more, of course; as Z-boy's antics drove me nuts. But since I would be identifying more with his mother than with him, I would just take a breath and just try to see the allure of the open road and a whole lot of pot.

It's simply too bad that the narrator is not up to snuff. His name is John Allen Nelson and it appears that he was a denizen of Baywatch (a show I never saw). This might be his first audiobook, and he needs a little more experience. He reads the story with appropriate emotion, and he varies the pacing of his narrative to build excitement. Unfortunately, though, Nelson has a tendency to read every sentence the same way: he'll start off in a medium-high register, with lots of vigor and authority; then --as the sentence goes on -- he just dwindles away, always ending with this quieter, low-toned voice. It's fairly lulling to listen to. He attempts to create characters by voice, but he was never able to sustain them, to overcome the natural tendency of his speech to ebb away.

This was particularly unfortunate with Logan and Z-boy, whose voices began to blend together as the story went on, and they are the only two people in the narrative. The only ongoing difference I heard was that Z-boy sounded louder than Logan. I had to concentrate to track the dialog, which was helped by each boy's fairly defined personality; but near the end of the story, Z-boy actually takes on some of Logan's soberer characteristics, and then I really didn't know who was speaking.

On Nelson's imdb page, it says he's married to Justine Eyre. She's a very experienced audiobook narrator. I enjoyed listening to her read Evil Genius. So, she can give him some tips and the next book he reads will be better.

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