Friday, July 19, 2013

HEARTBURN read by Meryl Streep

Why is it, when people die, there is renewed interest in their work? Is it the simple fact that their death is in the news, or are there other reasons? Nora Ephron's 1983 novel HEARTBURN has been given a new reading by none other than Meryl Streep in a new production (since Ephron's death last year.) The writer of Sleepless in Seattle offers up a comic interpretation of the breakup of a so-called "perfect" marriage, featuring a pregnant Rachel Samstat from her wandering husband Mark. Considered by many critics to be one of the best writers of fictional women's characters, Ephron also penned the movies When Harry Met Sally and Silkwood (hence Streep) and the books Wallflower at the Orgy, Crazy Salad, and Scribble Scribble, (all are also new in production, as read by Kathe Mazur.) Streep displays her innate sense of dramatic arc and timing, as well as her gift of creating characters, and it is unusual to hear her read exposition too, although this is a first person tale so that is mostly in-character as well. CRAZY SALAD and SCRIBBLE SCRIBBLE are combined into one audiobook, the latter being a David Foster Wallace--worthy series of essays on journalism, including the cultural reasons for creating People magazine (more people don't like to read), the food porn industry (how critics get into trouble, and the fine line between superlatives and going over the top), and why photos of a woman falling to her death enraged readers, who shouted exploitation when they really don't want to be reminded of their own mortality. (Ephron here sided with running the photos "because they are stunning, not garish" and "because dying is a part of living" and because atrocities in crime and war continue because people are not allowed to see the end result of violence.) Humorist David Rakoff also died in August of last year after completing his last short novel: LOVE, DISHONOR, MARRY, DIE, CHERISH, PERISH. Quite an odd title to end a career writing for magazines, public radio, and screen. But that's not the biggest puzzle here. He also reads the book on audio, which is odd because his voice is weak, and often trails off into unintelligibility and hoarseness. He is obviously dying, and so his poetic and satirical swipes at Reagan, postwar California, Man Men in New York in the 1950s, marriage, and the American dream can be lost to those trying to listen, especially in traffic in their cars. If Rakoff has a message, it's that kindness can make cruelty bearable, and beauty can be found everywhere, if only we look for it. But this message may be lost, unfortunately, for audiobook listeners. If I had to guess, Rakoff asked to read this book, since he read his previous books, such as Half Empty. And the publisher was just being kind. In any event, don't forget CRAZY HEART by Thomas Cobb! Here's my photo with him at the Tucson Book Festival. 


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