Tuesday, June 7, 2011

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Alan Cumming won the Audie for "Solo Narration - Male" last month for his performance of Zorgamazoo by Robert Paul Weston. I don't pay much attention to the Audies as there are too many categories and not much recognition of books for younger listeners. But when I realized that Cumming and a children's book had beaten out some serious competition (serious narrators and "serious" content), it seemed that I should give it my ears. I have my own opinion about why it was selected: This book should only be read aloud. In the hands of a master narrator like Cumming, its whimsy becomes tolerable.

Zorgamazoo is the story of Katrina Katrell, a classically poor orphan with a caregiver on the scale of Miss Breakbone (Paul Fleischman's The Dunderheads) or another classic, Roald Dahl's Miss Trunchbull. (Her name isn't nearly as interesting: Gremelda Krabone.) You think you've never read about lobotomies in children's literature, think again! Mrs. Krabone is so fed up with Katrina's active imagination (she calls it lying) that she "call[s] up [her] friend, a Lobotomy Doc,/a talented man at the butchery block." I have to admit, I did have a little "wha...?" moment when I got to that part.

Katrina makes a last-minute escape and comes upon a creature that she thought she'd seen earlier in the day in the subway, Mortimer Yorgle, an underground-dwelling Zorgle. Morty's just won a dubious lottery prize assigning him the job of locating a whole town of missing Zorgles, the Zorgles of Zorgamazoo. He wants desperately to succeed as a way of honoring his dying father, but he needs Katrina's gumption to help him to do the job. Together, they get to the bottom of the disappearing creatures and save the day.

I would have slit my wrists if I had read this to myself. It's all (every last bit of it) in rhyming couplets (not only that, it's in anapestic tetrameter!) and I found it just too twee and consciously zany for toleration. (Others have disagreed with me -- the cover is adorned with two book awards [the one on the right is the E.B. White Read Aloud Award, which has a rather nifty design], and I believe it won others as well.) It seemed very derivative -- like a Dr. Seuss chapter book. There's plenty of humor, dark and otherwise, but I just couldn't get beyond the format to do more than chuckle wanly.

Alan Cumming does a great job of elevating the material. He both went with the endless, lulling rhythm and defied it. To keep things interesting, he breaks the rhythm with pauses, variations in emphasis, volume changes, and a cast of funny, entertaining character voices that are always spot on and consistent. He reads the poetry with a slight Scottish burr that adds another level of humor to the story. He worked very hard to make this potentially sing-song, one-note novel into a complex, listen-able experience, and it pays off.

I downloaded this from my library's Overdrive offerings because it was an mp3 and thus playable on my (relatively) new MacBook. I was puttering around doing chores during a large part of listening to this brief novel and I found that carrying the computer around was much more pleasant than having those damn earbuds in my ears! It even sounded better ... maybe? On the other hand, it suffered from that same condition that I've heard in several other downloadable audios: the too-soon cutoff at the end of a (virtual) disc -- leaving a few seconds (minutes?) of the book unheard and unhearable.

[Zorgamazoo in print was illustrated by Victor Rivas, and I retrieved a few of his illustrations from the book's website. The topmost is Katrina and Mrs. Krabone and the bottom is Morty Yorgle.]

Zorgamazoo by Robert Paul Weston
Narrated by Alan Cumming
Penguin Audio, 2010. 3:12

1 comment:

Jen - Devourer of Books said...

Well, it is a fun title, at least.