Audiobook Review: The Angel Esmeralda

Audiobook Review: The Angel EsmeraldaThe Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories by Don DeLillo
Narrator: Aaron Tveit, Heather Lind, Mercedes Ruehl, Michael Cerveris, Peter Friedman
Length: 6 hrs, 16 mins
Published by Simon & Schuster Audio on November 15, 2011
Genres: Contemporary, Short Stories
Format: Audiobook
Source: Gifted

From one of the greatest writers of our time, his first collection of short stories, written between 1979 and 2011, chronicling and foretelling three decades of American life.

Set in Greece, the Caribbean, Manhattan, a white-collar prison and outer space, these nine stories are a mesmerizing introduction to Don DeLillo's iconic voice, from the rich, startling, jazz-infused rhythms of his early work to the spare, distilled, monastic language of the later stories.

In "Creation," a couple at the end of a cruise somewhere in the West Indies can't get off the island: flights canceled, unconfirmed reservations, a dysfunctional economy. In "Human Moments in World War III," two men orbiting the earth, charged with gathering intelligence and reporting to Colorado Command, hear the voices of American radio, from a half century earlier. In the title story, Sisters Edgar and Grace, nuns working the violent streets of the South Bronx, confirm the neighborhood's miracle, the apparition of a dead child, Esmeralda.

Nuns, astronauts, athletes, terrorists and travelers, the characters inThe Angel Esmeralda propel themselves into the world and define it. DeLillo's sentences are instantly recognizable, as original as the splatter of Jackson Pollock or the luminous rectangles of Mark Rothko. These nine stories describe an extraordinary journey of one great writer whose prescience about world events and ear for American language changed the literary landscape.

You know how in high school or college English classes, you unpack every single line of whatever text you’re studying at the time. The class looks deeply into the work for symbolism, metaphor, syntax, diction, and deeper meaning. To be honest, much as I can enjoy doing it, I think a lot of that’s bullshit. Sometimes a spade is just a spade, you know. Sometimes, the color of the wallpaper in the room wasn’t the author subtly trying to send the reader a message about the hero’s emotional state.

Why am I going into all of this? Well, DeLillo’s stories feel like he wrote them with these sorts of classes in mind. They’re full of symbolism and deeper meanings, all intended to show how clever he is. Were I reading these with a class and taking the time to analyze them word by word, I might be impressed. However, as pleasure reading, they kind of sucked.

Here’s the thing: these stories were just so boring. I wanted to like DeLillo; actually, I still do, since I own two of his novels. They were mostly the sort of thing where nothing really happens and what does happen doesn’t make sense, but probably because they were about something else altogether. A couple of them had awesome premises, but failed to focus on the cool parts. For example, one was set in Athens, Ohio, which was being beset by an endless stream of earthquakes. It focused not on that, but on a broken statue, obviously a metaphor, but for what I just don’t care. Yes, I know much of this is my laziness, but I have a day job, y’all, and I don’t want to do too much heavy lifting when I get home.

The characters lacked development, I felt. Again, this just seemed to be much more about his ideas and getting his literariness across. Also, they were repetitive. In most of the stories, there was a refrain that would repeat several times, which is generally not my favorite literary technique, and didn’t work for me here.

I fully acknowledge that I didn’t read these the way I think DeLillo intended them to be read, but, dammit, I’ll read however I want to. Anyway, for the scholarly types that want to study sentences in detail, go right ahead; this is for you. I’m sure these are marvelous and critically praised and whatever, but I guess I’m not smart enough to appreciate them. Fine by me.

The narrators match their style to the stories pretty perfectly. Of course, I didn’t like the stories, so I didn’t care for most of the narration either. For the most part, they affect (or always read with) a monotonous tone. These people don’t give a fuck and they want the world to know it. This plays perfectly into the scholarly “too good for an interesting story line” business. It does not, however, make paying attention to the audiobook an easy task. If you like this style, then go for it, but it’s not for me.

4 responses to “Audiobook Review: The Angel Esmeralda”

  1. Giselle says:

    Eeep. I already have a headache O_O This is clearly not for me either. I don’t like to have to work to get wtf the author is trying to communicate. And metaphors and shit I’m just always like… huh? Just say what the fuck you wanna say, you know. Speak with the mouth your momma gave you!

    • Christina says:

      Pretty much. Haha, you always speak right to the point of the matter. Or put all of that in there but also tell a good story, you know? To me, a good story is the prime directive!

  2. Kat Balcombe says:

    What Giselle said. Coupled with snooty narrators I just couldn’t…..I’d end up digging my eyes out with a teaspoon in frustration.

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