You ever finish a wonderful book, but aren't quite sure how to encapsulate your thoughts on it in a review, or what may be left to say after so many others have eloquently tread this same ground and said all the things already? This is the place I find myself in now, having just this morning finished listening to The Listener. This sucker's gotten a lot of positive press and plenty of wonderful reviews already, and I feel like I don't have much else to add. Still, I suppose I must try.
Simply put, Robert McCammon knocks it out of the park with this one. Set in post-Depression Louisiana, The Listener revolves around a kidnapping plot hatched by a pair of grifters who fancy themselves a Bonnie & Clyde duo. Their plan is to abduct the two children of a wealthy industrialist and hold them for ransom. Caught up in it all is Curtis Mayhew, a young black man with a supernatural gift. Curtis is a listener, and can communicate telepathically with others who share this special gift. He's been communicating with a ten-year-old girl, Nilla, and when she sends an urgent cry for help about a man with a gun, Curtis knows he has to help, damn the consequences.
The Listener is a slow-burn potboiler that places particular emphasis on its characters first and foremost. McCammon is meticulous and deliberate in his pacing, introducing us to each of the major players and their places in the world as they work to either scheme or merely eek out a living before becoming embroiled in this kidnapping. Each of these character's stories are paid off in beautiful and sometimes surprising ways as The Listener reaches it final denouement. This historical narrative is so perfectly constructed that nothing ever feels unnatural or out of place. Readers are eased into Curtis's life and his gift in such a way that, once his telepathy is used to full effect, it's every bit a natural part of the character as the air he breathes.
McCammon's writing is equally effective, his prose rife with lingo of the era, and he captures moments of human drama perfectly. There's humor and moments of sadness, as well as turns of violence that are both shocking and cinematic, and sequences of abuse that will have you ready to lunge out of your seat to restrain the psychopathic Donnie before he can inflict more harm on whoever dares to step near him.
Marc Vietor's voice captures the proceedings perfectly, hitting all the right pitches and tones of McCammon's literary style. His talents as a narrator are well-suited to the 1930s era of The Listener, with its hard-edged con-men and crazed women, as well as the softer, more rounded subtleties of gentle men like Curtis, who prize their brains far more than their fists. Vietor and McCammon make for a perfect pair here, and the audio edition of The Listener is a wonderful, and engrossing, production all around.
McCammon delivers a story that feels wholly authentic from start to finish, and The Listener just might be on the best books of the year. Highly recommended.
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