There are audiobooks enhanced by the author’s voice reading their own words (Becoming by Michele Obama), and those where an otherwise terrific book in print is hindered by the author’s out-loud read (Kamala Harris’s The Truths We Hold). And then there is the third category, a wonderful book in print made into a terrific listen by a professional actor relating to and embodying the characters (what Jim Dale did for the Harry Potter series).
Landslide, Susan Conley’s newest novel, about a contemporary family living (and seemingly sliding) in rural Maine, is the third category of audiobook. Read by TV and film actress Rebecca Lowman, Landslide is one of the most pleasing six and a half hour listens currently out there.
Centering around the Archer family, Landslide glimpses a moment in time; a couple temporarily distanced when husband Kit is injured in a fishing accident and his wife Jillian is made to span the miles between his hospital bed in Nova Scotia and the house she shares with their teenage sons, Charlie and Sam, off the coast of Maine. Conley has written acute and varied dialogue exposing the intricacies of parenting and the intimacies of a marriage. Lowman delivers this dialogue with skilled nuance, shifting her voice between genders, adjusting register for age and even, (as when Kit is on pain medication), for lucidity.
Conley brilliantly captures the essence of contemporary male teenagers (or “wolves” as Jillian thinks of the current stage her sons are in), and Lowman’s read embodies the brewing energy and projected lethargy that mingle in the male adolescent. If you have teenage boys in your sphere you will likely recognize them in this book. How they dress and groom and don’t groom themselves. How they speak and are silent. How they constantly eat and are constantly starving. The way they withhold and let loose their emotions. Their external bravado and their internal insecurity. How frighteningly easily they can be knocked off course. . . . Charlie and Sam are close in age, so Lowman steps back, allowing Conley’s writing to differentiate which of them is speaking, relying on the boy’s vastly different temperaments and maturities. The result is authentic – when Jillian and her boys are together, the listener hears a believable shift from female to male speaker, but feels the shift between the two boys.
Similarly, Lowman reads the internal voice of Jillian with subtle distinction from the protagonist’s external self; when Jillian forbids her younger son from jumping off a cliff so that he may save face, “Sam, I’ve changed my mind! You’re not allowed to jump!” vs. how she yearns for him to have jumped so that a part of himself may heal, “If he jumped, maybe it would mean he’d overcome his worst fears . . .” she toggles back and forth with sensitive restraint.
In delivering this work of fiction, Conley’s Landslide also delivers a gentle truth. That parenting teenagers demands becoming a bystander; often watching the ones you most wish to protect dance with danger, while you simultaneously will them towards deliverance. Landslide is one of those worthwhile reads that’s a highly recommended listen.
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