Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Cove, by Ron Rash, or "I lemmed another one"

As a kid I was a voracious reader. I would have been the cowboy on a long cattle drive who shot another cowboy for throwing the soup can in the fire before he could read the label. When I go to the library I usually come home with a big bag of paper books and CDs. The CDs are recorded books, because I want somebody to tell me a story whilst I'm driving or sewing or cooking or doing other onerous chores. I go through them like a chicken through a bowl of pumpkin seeds.  In my old age, however, I've grown very, very picky about what I read. The world is full of millions of good books. I do not wish to devote any time to reading something lackluster, trashy, offensive, or even just mediocre.

What this boils down to is this: I've become pretty ruthless about bailing on books that just don't enthrall me. The good folks at Sword & Laser coined a term a few years ago for this: to "lem".
'The term "Lem" means to not finish a book and abandon it. This term comes from when Sword and Laser were reading Stanisław Lem's Memoirs Found in a Bathtub. Veronica couldn't make it through the book so just gave up reading it.             (From the Sword & Laser FAQ at Goodreads)
I've started a lot of books in the last few years that have alienated me before the second disk (or chapter, whichever comes first). Most of them are not what I would call "bad" books, but they just didn't make me happy for one or more reasons. Some of those reasons could be things like unrealistic dialogue, glaring historical inaccuracies, glaring tech or weapons inaccuracies, women in romance novels acting like ninnies, lack of even one appealing character, gratuitous violence or sexual situations, sparkly vampires....you get the gist.

Sometimes the book is good, but the reader of the audio version I've chosen is annoying. I lemmed a romance novel a few months ago despite the interesting story because sound engineering was appallingly inconsistent. It was one of those efforts where somebody decided that a man should read the male POV parts and a woman should read the female POV parts despite the fact that it was mostly female POV. Anyway, the male POV sections sounded like they were recorded in somebody's bathroom on a dictaphone. The female reader's sections were nicely engineered, but the reader herself drove me nuts with her syrup on quaaludes interpretation of a Georgian accent. More recently I was saddened to lem a recorded book read by Will Patton, a fabulous actor and voice artist, because even after several chapters I hadn't come to a single likeable character in the story. Every character was evil or stupid or sleazy or all of the above. Yuck. Not my speed.

Today I lemmed "The Cove", by Ron Rash. Apparently he has some serious fans out there, if you look at the reader reviews over at Goodreads. I found his prose lovely and the setting of the story interesting, but this is another case where a voice artist alienated me. I think she was going for "down-home, unsophisticated but pure" but came across as flat and bored to my ear. The real deal-breaker was a scene where the female protagonist recalls the incident where she lost her virginity as a naive high schooler. It's appalling and tragic, and yet it's written in an off-hand manner that struck me as pretty callous. This is a traumatic moment in this girl's life, and I don't know if the subject ever comes up again in the story, but the way it's presented to the reader is so casual and bland that it's almost as if it's coming from the POV of the despicable boys who committed the violence. "Yeah, whatever. We did her. Har har." No thanks. I didn't need our girl to hark back to that day and lament, "...and then she spent the next forty-eight hours sobbing. She was scarred for life", but some kind of tone that conveys the shock and sadness of an event like that would have kept me engaged. As it was, I decided that it wasn't worth the risk of more of the same, so I moved on. I'd be interested to try something else by the same author, with a different reader or in a hard copy, because it was otherwise excellent.

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