Eric A. Shelman
How does one review an audiobook? Is it an audio version of the source book, much like a movie based on a book? That's the dilemma for this critic, for I feel that I have not read Shifting Fears. I have experienced someone else's reading of the book. Here are some of the problems I had. When we read a novel, we imagine a series of pictures, sights, and sounds unfolding in our mind's eye, like a three-hundred page flip-book. We interpret the words and establish a mental song, for instance, the storyline, the guitar, the plotline, the bass, the dialog, the drums, the narrator, the lead vocalist. In the case of the audiobook, someone else is interpreting the same song in a different way. Imagine Stairway to Heaven by Nirvana. Which is not to say it is a bad interpretation--just not the version our minds captured and created.
In stage play terms, Craig Jessen, the vocalist of Shifting Fears, acts as director, performers, and stage manager. We are not reading Eric A. Shelman, but Jessen's interpretation of Shelman. We, as readers used to being our own interpreter, enjoy the performance as much, if not more, than the fiction, for we never see the words. We hear our own voice echoed back to us as if we were reading the book; we imagine that that is what our mental interpretation would sound like if someone were to record our thoughts as we read the book. So, in some cases, the interpretation may in fact be superior to our own, or in other cases, weaker.Thus, using our music metaphor, it may be the case that Nirvana may in fact play a better version of Stairway to Heaven than Led Zeppelin, or, at least, a comparable one.
So, that is what we are looking for when we approach the audiobook critiques and reviews: Is it better than our own interpretation of the book and does it adequately interpret the book? To answer these questions, however, one must read the book before listening to the audiobook, which seems the redundancy. Therefore, I should deconstruct the interpretation in those cases where I have not read the source fiction. (In my next review, Nightworld by F. Paul Wilson, I have read the book more than once, so that should prove interesting). Here, does the interpretation work on its own as fiction, approximating or surpassing the source? That will be our question.
Let's begin with Craig Jessen's characterizations from Shifting Fears. To capture The Cowboy, our narrator uses a husky Clint Eastwood voice. It is difficult to imagine The Man With No Name killing innocent people, so that voice choice may not have been the wisest. A simple Texas accent would have sufficed and may have made the killer more scary. Eastwood is not scary. To capture Luke, our hero caught in supernatural circumstances, Jessen uses a confident voice when he converses with other characters and shifts to a doubtful voice when he introspectively considers his ghostly predicament. Jessen's Luke is the backbone of the story; his confusion, fear, and desperation are well-developed. We may not have heard Clint's voice in our reading of Shelman's book, but we could only wish to hear Luke's voice should we choose to read it. In this case, Craig Jessen makes the fiction his own.
Next, let's consider Jessen's detached narrator, the third person of the fiction. He is a chameleon matching the story's backgrounds, whether it is describing a desert killing or detailing the restoration of a1958 Cadillac. He is both observer and participant, thus allowing us to hear our own thoughts following the fiction. He never gets in the way of the story. He is invisible, as he should be, as he would be if we read the source fiction ourselves. So, here, Jessen succeeds in elevating our experience beyond our own expectations of an adequate interpretation of the book.