Nine stories, 215 pages, on 5 CD’s. Don DeLillo wrote these stories over the course of 4 decades, so there is no story thread connecting them, which I didn’t know going in but quickly figured out. The first story, “Creation,” took a turn that was so abrupt that I twice backed up to an earlier track to make sure I hadn’t missed something leading up to it. That story is set in the islands, and then the second story, “Human Moments in World War III,” is set in space. How’s that for a change of locale?
I realized that I had read the title story, “The Angel Esmaralda,” in the New Yorker magazine. But this gave me the valuable opportunity to experience the difference between reading and listening to this story. Many times there is a single reader on an audiobook, but this is one which uses multiple readers–and excellent readers they were. Their voices were much better than my inner reader’s voice. “Esmaralda” is set in a rough South Bronx neighborhood from the viewpoint of two nuns, sisters Edgar and Grace, who serve the community. The voice given to Sister Edgar is the best example on the audiobook of a voice fitting the words beautifully. Esmaralda is a twelve-year-old girl who has no one to look out for her, and escapes all attempts to help her. We never hear a word from her; we simply see her fleeing figure as the other characters in the story do. I won’t spoil the story, but I hope you’ll want to know what happens.
When I started listening to another story, “Midnight in Dostoevsky,” I at first thought that it wasn’t as interesting as the others. Two young young men who are friends entertain themselves by disagreeing with one another. They see an old man they don’t know on the street one day, argue about whether the coat he is wearing is a parka or an anorak, and the game is on. They see him on the streets day after day, and gradually construct a detailed backstory for him which is, of course, completely a product of their imaginations. What is this for, I thought, until it hit me that it is a demonstration of the way in which a writer builds a character. Aha! In the end, these two don’t want to approach the old man because they don’t want to find out that their story for him is not his story. Is this the way DeLillo feels about his characters? Could be.
I, too, have strayed away from my original reading stack. I finished THE PALE KING on CD and hadn’t teed up the next book, so I picked up two DeLillo audiobooks off the shelf at my branch library. Now, I’m on to the next one. (I’m at 1,891 pages.)