“There There” by Tommy Orange, narrated by Darrell Dennis, Shaun Taylor-Corbett, Alma Cuervo and Kyla Garcia, Random House, 8 hours
“The Coming Storm” by Michael Lewis, narrated by Lewis, Audible, 2:27
The title of Michael Lewis’ latest work, “The Coming Storm,” a story about bureaucracy in the hands of the Trump administration, is a metaphor for what may result from this presidency’s control of the U.S. Department of Commerce. Lewis, an engaging reader as well as writer, shows what’s at stake when the department is led by indifferent or self-interested managers. Commerce has much more to do with data gathering than business, and much of the data involves weather. “Without that data, and the Weather Service that made sense of it,” Lewis writes, “no plane would fly, no bridge would be built, and no war would be fought, at least not well.”
The story here follows the pattern of Lewis’ reporting in Vanity Fair about the Trump administration’s bumbling takeovers of the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Although the Commerce Department lacks the explosive potential of the DOE, the prediction business and the destructive force of storms, particularly tornadoes, means that bad decisions here have lethal long-range consequences. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross comes across as uninformed and uninterested — and a little dishonest. Another proposed Trump appointee, Barry Myers, CEO of Accuweather, seems motivated only by naked self-interest at the expense of taxpayers. Altogether, there’s a lot of detail to absorb here.
Tommy Orange’s debut novel, “There There,” provides a glimpse into a world that rarely gets attention: urban Native Americans. It deserves an excellent group of actors and experienced narrators to render its story — and it gets one in this production. “We know the sound of the freeway better than we do rivers, the howl of distant trains better than wolf howls, we know the smell of gas and freshly wet concrete and burned rubber better than we do the smell of cedar or sage,” Orange writes.
The setting is Oakland, Calif., and Orange spins the stories of a dozen people heading to a powwow. Orvil Red Feather (Shaun TaylorCorbett) has to learn native dancing in secret using YouTube because the aunt who cares for him has kept him and his two brothers “from doing anything Indian. … ‘Too many risks,’ she’d said.” His mother, Jacquie Red Feather (Alma Cuervo), who’s only just quit drinking, is making her way back to the sons she abandoned years earlier. Dene Oxendene (Darrell Dennis) is filming Indians in Oakland telling their stories. Daniel Gonzales (Taylor-Corbett) figures out how to use a printer to make guns. In setting up this tale, Orange deals with the cliches about Indians, the ugly history, and the ubiquity of Indian images. Fittingly, most of the narrators, like the author, are Native American. “The Ruin” by Dervla McTiernan, narrated by Aoife McMahon, Blackstone, 10:25
If a single-voice narration is going to go wrong, it will be in a scene featuring several speakers. Some narrators avoid any problem by creating distinct voices — think of it as toned-down Mel Blanc. Others rely on voices that differ slightly in pitch or tone. The result is often characters who are difficult to distinguish from one another. So it’s notable that Aoife McMahon, who’s taken the subtler road, manages multiple characters easily in Dervla McTiernan’s debut police procedural, “The Ruin.”
Detective Cormac Reilly has returned to Galway, Ireland, from more prestigious detective work in Dublin. His new colleagues treat him with ample resentment, and he’s assigned to cases so cold, everyone in the file is dead. Then he’s asked to investigate an old overdose case. Twenty years earlier, he was the rookie who handled the call. Wet behind the ears, Reilly was told he was responding to a domestic. Instead he found a dilapidated manor and two skinny children, Jack and his sister, Maude. Upstairs was the corpse of their mother. The cause of death seemed obvious: A syringe with traces of heroin lay beside the body. Twenty years later, the boy from that case has committed suicide, and the sister is insisting that the police have made a mistake.
Jenni Laidman is a freelancer. For the week ended Aug. 12, compiled from data from independent and chain bookstores, book wholesalers and independent distributors nationwide.
— Publishers Weekly