Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Performance art

It's somewhat unnerving to realize that I've been reading Sara Paretsky's V.I. Warshawski novels for almost 30 years. I swear that Vic started out older than I am, but now she's younger [isn't everyone?], but she's starting to feel the years (if not the mileage) in her 14th installment, Body Work.

[Oh boy, the weeks since finishing this one are showing.] Vic gets embroiled in the many mysteries surrounding an avant-garde performer calling herself the Body Artist who allows customers at the trendy Bar Gouge to paint images on her nude body. A camera records the images (often violent ones), which are posted on her website. Vic is at the show when an Iraqi vet attacks a young woman who is painting a particular image on the Artist's body. A few days later, the woman is shot outside the bar and dies in Vic's arms. The vet is found overdosed and in a coma, holding the murder weapon, and is arrested. His family asks Vic to investigate.

Many twists and turns, the Russian mob, a Blackwater-like military contractor (OK, paranoid moment: the website xecompany.com morphs into the all-American ustraining.com [a "solutions provider to the U.S. government"] without stopping) who can monitor her activities, more than one physical dust-up, and all of Paretsky's familiar characters (can I say how much I despise the recently added young cousin, Petra?) combine to the logical, satisfying ending that mystery readers (mostly) require. I didn't much care for the deus ex machina that Vic used to bring the perps to justice, it didn't seem like her to me. I like Vic's righteousness as well as the strong sense of place (Chicago) her novels have, but ultimately I found this to be kind of minor Vic.

I wonder if I'm feeling this way because I wasn't crazy about the narrator, Susan Ericksen. To me, she lacks Vic's edge. In her narration, Vic comes across as earnest and dominating, but more like a teacher and less like a woman who relies on both her wits and her physical strength to control people and events. The narrative feels instructive rather than exciting. The aforementioned Petra was also grating, she feels caricatured in her Gen Y-ness (or whatever Gen we're on now).

Now, Ericksen is clearly a skilled narrator who can create individual characters (which she does here) and can keep a lengthy novel moving along, but -- in spite of her nicely subtle Chicago accent -- she just doesn't feel right in this part. (I'm clearly in the minority here, as she has narrated a number of V.I.'s stories. Many years ago, I listened to Sandra Burr read Paretsky's Blacklist, and I wasn't too impressed with her either, pronouncing it "very-average" [oh, you are so articulate, Lee!].)

In the tiny world of audiobook-dom, I read that Ericksen is married to David Colacci (alas, not thrilled by what I heard from him, either).

I believe I have a six degrees moment with Sara Paretsky: My first cousin was her first roommate at Bryn Mawr. (But I might be misremembering and maybe they were only in the same graduating class.) Those of us without celebrity cling to what little we have.

[The Chicago skyline was retrieved from Wikimedia Commons; the photographer is unattributed.]

Body Work by Sara Paretsky
Narrated by Susan Ericksen
Brilliance Audio, 2010. 16:06

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