Friday, January 21, 2011

The road not taken

It's Everybody Reads time at my library. I don't think I've really enjoyed any of the books selected in nine years, and I've got my ideas about why, but I'll keep those to myself (see my note under About Me). This year's selection is The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore.

Wes Moore, the author, is a young black man whose adolescent identity-seeking behavior might have sent him down a path to drug use and possible criminality, but his mother and her extended family kept a close eye on him and shipped him off to military school for some much-needed discipline and adult male attention. Moore went on to an illustrious educational career, served in Afghanistan, and is a successful businessman. The other Wes Moore is a young black man serving a life sentence in a Maryland jail for participating in an armed robbery where an off-duty cop was murdered.

Wes Moore, the author, heard about the other Wes Moore and was curious enough about their similarities to reach out to him to learn his story. He shares that Wes's story of absent fathers, poor schools, easy drug money, and adult responsibilities without adult coping skills in chapters that alternate with the story of his own youth. Inmate Wes Moore's story is like the excellent television series, The Wire, come to all-too-vivid reality.

I think I didn't like this much because I listened to the author read it. And, well ... he comes across a little too falsely modest about his accomplishments. In much of the audiobook, he sounds like a motivational speaker, and my tolerance of that stuff is zero. Perhaps it is the somewhat leaden prose -- which is so much easier to spot when you hear it than when you read it, I think -- that gives me trouble too: The story is fairly cliché-ridden, and Moore clearly had a thesaurus nearby while he was writing. He also examined their connected lives in the most superficial way. I would have preferred more jailhouse conversations and less detail about life at Valley Forge Military Academy (mostly memorable to me from the ubiquitous ads in the New York Times print magazine promising to make a man out of your problem child).

Moore, the author, reads quickly and mostly neutrally. Occasionally, he'll burst out with Jamaican rhythm or a clicking Xhosa word, and he sounds good. He seems most comfortable when delivering the military bellow. There was just the faintest hint of Bawl'more in his speech where appropriate (that's how the white folks talk, mostly), and when he is reading the other Wes Moore's dialog, he definitely sounds like one of those crooks on The Wire. "Feel me?"

The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore
Narrated by the author
Books on Tape, 2010. 6:12

No comments: