Monday, November 8, 2010

Artist at work

Scumble is a technique used by painters to soften colors or blur outlines of images (presumably to perfect them). Scumble is also the name of Ingrid Law's second book about an extended family each of whom possess one unique supernatural power that arrives shortly after their 13th birthday. That power is called a "savvy," and the most important thing a teenager can learn about their savvy is how to "scumble" -- or control -- it. And in Scumble, Ledger Kale is having trouble with this task.

Ledger is related to Mibs Beaumont, heroine of the first novel, Savvy. It's nine years later when Ledge turns 13; his non-gifted father hopes that he will become a super fast runner. Instead, Ledge's savvy arrives smack in the middle of a family wedding in Wyoming, causing human-made things like motorcycles, barns and even picnic tables to spectacularly break into pieces. Needless to say, Ledge is deeply disappointed; but he's really upset when his parents decide to leave him at his uncle's insect ranch (his Uncle Autry having turned his savvy -- attracting insects and butterflies -- into a career), the Flying Cattleheart, until he learns to scumble his savvy. His adult cousin, Rocket, is living at the ranch for the same reason and Ledge is pretty depressed at the prospect of never being able to scumble enough to leave.

On top of this, Ledge has to keep the inquisitive cub reporter Sarah Jane Cabot from sniffing around and exposing the family secret in her weekly self-published newspaper, the "Sundance Scuttlebutt." And then there's Sarah Jane's father -- a collector of oddities -- who seems intent on foreclosing on all the small businesses in their small town, including Uncle Autry's. It's going to be a long summer.

What I liked about Savvy when I read it two years ago was that the story seemed so original -- for a coming-of-age tale. Law's rich and imaginative language is both humorous and complex enough (in a good way) to make a great read-aloud. Her characters are engaging people that you want to get to know. Ledger and Sarah Jane -- and their story -- are just as much fun. I didn't need to get caught up on Mibs' story again, but I really appreciated the concept that this large, loving family extends well beyond the Beaumonts. I also enjoyed this novel's tall-tale feel, the sensation -- through language and events -- that we are out in the wild West, where anything can happen.

David Kremenitzer reads the novel. He has a pleasant speaking voice and reads Ledger's first-person narration with a nice mix of youthful confidence and terror at the situation in which he finds himself. He reads Law's intricate, metaphoric language naturally. (There is the occasional tongue-tying moment where he just doesn't get all the words out completely ... but I understand what he means.) He can be snarky at the sight of his cousin Rocket falling for a girl, and awkwardly sappy when his own heart beats a little faster. Kremenitzer keeps the story moving along quickly without feeling rushed. I liked his knowing portrayal of Ledger's little sister Fedora, who wears a protective helmet and is deeply (and humorously) obsessed with safety: "Safety starts with an S, Ledge, but it begins with you."

However, it is clear that Kremenitzer isn't entirely confident as a multi-character voice actor. He attempts different voices for the novel's many characters, but they mostly sound stiff and forced. The male adults all speak with a deep-voiced formality, the women are preternaturally calm and collected, Grandpa Bomba is quavery and doddering, and the teen girls are kind of swishy and whiny. Many of the characters are so awkward sounding that it's hard to remember that you are listening to such an engaging story. I had trouble liking the audiobook for this reason.

In addition to this, there were abrupt and unfinished ends to each track of this audiobook. This was a downloaded book, so each disc becomes a track; of the six tracks, four of them ended in the middle of a sentence. I don't think I missed anything important -- maybe just 10 seconds or so -- but this is deeply annoying. Is this a downloaded problem on my end, or something that got screwed up in the digitizing process?

(I'm not a happy listener at the prospect of all downloadable all the time -- the quality is still not consistently good enough. I don't have the technology that enables me to listen in all the places I can listen to CDs. At the same time, I do like the broader listening options that downloadables currently offer me [I have an ever-growing "wish list".]. I'm conflicted. Sigh.)

Scumble by Ingrid Law
Narrated by David Kremenitzer
Penguin Audio, 2010. 7:11 (unabridged)

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