Friday, August 13, 2010

Bang bang!

When I began listening for Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults in 2006 (but before I really knew how to "power listen"), I listened to a book by Marcus Sedgwick (The Dark Flight Down) that I remember liking so much that Sedgwick went on my I-want-to-read-another-book-by-him list. It's taken me 4-1/2 years to do so, with Revolver. I'm not sure it was worth the wait.

Sig Andersson lives with his father, Einar, and his sister and stepmother in remote Giron (68 latitude north) in Finland (?) above the Arctic Circle in 1910. Einar works for a nearby iron mine. Glancing through the cabin window one afternoon, Sig spots a smudge on the frozen lake and knows that his father is in trouble. After falling through a hole in the ice, Einar has frozen to death. Sig brings his body back to the house and his sister and stepmother head to the town for help. There's a loud knock on the cabin door, and a huge man forces his way in, demanding to see Einar. Upon seeing his body, this man -- Gunther Wolff -- demands that Sig turn over his father's gold; gold Wolff claims that Einar has stolen from him.

Sig knows nothing about the gold, but Wolff doesn't believe him, and sits down to wait for the return of Sig's sister and stepmother. The story builds tension from this point to Sig's showdown with Wolff, a showdown where Sig has to decide whether or not to use Einar's old Colt 44-40 (the Peacemaker) a gun he has regarded for the last 10 years of his life with a mix of fascination and horror.

Sig's ordeal is interspersed with flashbacks to the Alaskan Gold Rush -- Nome, 1899 -- when his mother was still alive and Einar was working in the assay office, analyzing the prospectors' gold. This is when Einar obtains the Colt; he waxes on about its beauty, encouraging four-year-old Sig to handle it much to the dismay of his mother.

Time shifts in audiobooks are always a bit tricky, since your ear doesn't often catch that clue (if there is a clue) to prepare you for the swap. In Revolver, it is pretty clear, although the 1910 sections also include flashbacks. What is more confusing is the author's inexplicable (to me) decision to label the three days during which the 1910 action of the novel takes place as Wash Day, Sun Day and Moon Day. Wash Day is explained in the first few pages (every Saturday the family ritual is to take baths), but what is with the Sun and the Moon? I was dissing the reader for his extremely awkward pronunciation of Sunday until I took a look at the book and realized that he was reading it correctly. This was before the time ticked over to Mo[o]nday, so I wonder if I would have eventually understood it solely by listening.

Additionally muddling to a listener is that the Nome chapters all have names (i.e., "The Frozen Sea"), while the Giron chapters are those Days, followed by a time of day (i.e., dusk). To sum up, the text presents some issues for a listener.

These barriers aside, I really didn't like the novel all that much. I'll admit to tuning in and out during the several sections where Einar touts the features of his revolver [yawn]. The suspense builds very effectively, but the ending seems sudden; [Spoiler?] I guess I don't buy that Sig remembers what his father shared with him about the gun, when I've been told throughout the novel that Sig never held it except for that single time. [Trying not to spoil it ... ] There's a postscript with a certain amount of moral ambiguity that needs resolution in my opinion.

To add insult, I'm not very impressed with the reader, Peter Berkrot. His reading is actor-y, all declamation and emoting. Sig notes that Wolff speaks with an unidentified accent, which comes and (mostly) goes in Berkrot's interpretation. Otherwise, the loud and terrorizing Wolff seems to be the character he is most comfortable with, as he lacks subtlety in his portrayal of Sig's grief and his fear of both Wolff and the revolver. His females are of the upper-register variety, and when Sig's mother cries that "Guns are evil. Evil, Einar." ... well, he reads this in a high-pitched scream with a lot of emphasis on the final 'l' that sounds like the woman is possessed.

Berkrot fares better with his pacing. He builds tension very well -- he speeds up his reading, but lingers in appropriate places in order to keep you listening. The novel is fairly short (3-1/2 hours), and -- while I had trouble getting started (what with time shifts and Sun Days) -- I sped through the last 75 minutes. The author had me enough off-balance at this point that I needed to know the outcome. Berkrot's reading helps to sustain that feeling.

Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick
Narrated by Peter Berkrot
Brilliance Audio, 2010. 3:33 (unabridged)

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