I'm a big fan of audiobooks, although that fact might have been obscured somewhat by some of the actual content I've posted on this blog. For example, I'm on the record in numerous places championing the fact (and it IS a fact) that reading and listening are not the same thing.
If you want proof of that, here some is, excerpted from the nerd debate David at Talk Stephen King hosted:
There is more -- a LOT more, in fact -- to reading than the simple receipt of a story. Depending on one's personal opinions, the story may or may not be the most important element in reading, but whether it is or whether it isn't, it is certainly not the ONLY element. The visual arrangement of those words is also important, and can carry meanings which cannot be replicated aurally. This is especially true in the case of poetry, in which -- and this is also true of prose, but is ESPECIALLY true of poetry -- every punctuation mark, every line break, every juxtaposition of one letter with another can hold a world of meaning. Listening to poetry can sometimes rob one of those meanings, and while it may add elements -- via the emotions of the reader, or subtle vocal shadings -- it cannot replicate the visual impact of lines such as these:
I was ten years old
when Father, glistening,
slipped beneath the waters
That's a crap poem that I made up in ten seconds, but the offset of the final line carries a meaning. Someone reading it aloud would almost certainly pause for several seconds before delivering it, but that is not how I intended it to be read: you will note that I did not include a comma. Instead, I intend one to read it straight through, and to allow the empty page space to be something one has no choice but to ignore as though it wasn't there at all ... even though we know it very definitely IS there.
I stand by those sentiments 100%, but just in case it's never been made clear, let me try to do so now: I love audiobooks. I am prone to disappointment in them (I so disliked Craig Wasson's narration of 11/22/63 that I never could force myself to write a review of the audiobook), but when one clicks with me, it clicks big-time. Which brings us to:
I recently got around to listening to the 2010 audio release of The Running Man as narrated by Kevin Kenerly.
First, let's talk about the quality of the narration by Kevin Kenerly, which is superb. He does a terrific job at delivering narration, and is just as good -- if not better -- with the dialogue. He doesn't commit the sin of overacting, which is one of the things that will turn me the quickest when listening to a audiobook. He does slightly different voices for each character, but he doesn't make them SO different that it takes the listener out of the story; instead, he delivers little change-ups, but more or less allows the material to speak for itself (pun intended).
But don't take my word for it; go check out the sample on Audible's page for the book. You can find it here.
Kenerly does not have a huge number of credits to his name, but I'd love to hear his version of Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley at some point. And I can promise you this: if I see his name on an audiobook in the future, it WILL catch my attention.
Now, some thoughts on the novel itself. I didn't take any notes while listening to the audiobook, but a few things stand out.
- First of all, I remain convinced that the novel loses a huge amount of steam once the actual Running Man competition begins. Partly this is due to the fact that we are in Ben's point-of-view for the entire novel, so we don't have a particularly clear sense of the mechanics of how the game works. We suspect that it must be rigged in some way due to the sheer speed with quick the Hunters catch up to him. However, we don't really know.
- More importantly, we have no real understanding of why the public treats the show as such a big deal. Like, how often does it come on? What does a typical episode consist of? Does it follow the Hunters? Is it speculation and commentary? I'm just not sure that element comes across as clearly as it needs to. To be fair, King's focus is on the characters more than on the mechanics, but as is, I think it reads a bit too much like a metaphor with no real-world validity. King handled this MUCH better in The Long Walk.
- There have been King fans who have pointed out that Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games owes a debt of gratitude to The Running Man. If so, it's probably via the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie; there is virtually nothing of The Running Man in The Hunger Games; that argument needs to end.
- From the section titled "...Minus 090 and Counting...": "The cop suddenly jammed a hand into his jumper pocket and came up with a fistful of plastic coins. He thrust two New Quarters at Richards, stuffed the rest of the money back in his pocket, and grabbed a handful of Richards's tunic. 'If you send anybody else over here because Charlie Grady is a soft touch, I'll beat your sonofabitching brains out, maggot.' " The word "maggot" is used as an insult fairly frequently throughout the novel, and every single time, it made me think of Cort calling young Roland or one of his compatriots a maggot. There's no connection there, but my mind insisted on making it nonetheless.
- The audio version also includes a reading of "The Importance of Being Bachman," the introduction to The Bachman Books that debuted in the 1996 editions of that omnibus. It's a good introduction, and Kenerly reads it well, but be warned: it includes spoilers for the novel you are about to listen to! The producer really ought to have placed it after the book, rather than at the beginning, but I suppose they were trying to replicate the placement within the book itself.
- I've got an interesting theory about how this novel might connect to 11/22/63. However, I can't talk about it without spoiling 11/22/63, so if you haven't read that excellent novel yet, skip my next bullet point and scroll down past the amusing photo of a cat reading a Harper Lee novel.
- Still here? Alright, so as you recall, toward the end of 11/22/63, after Jake stops the Kennedy assassination and returns to the present, he finds a dystopian society in which the world seems to be on the verge of collapse. There is a reference to "newbucks" and "oldbucks," which are also types of currency mentioned in The Running Man. In The Running Man, there is also an important scene set in Derry, Maine! Now, I don't think the connection tracks all that well, for the following reasons: (1) in 11/22/63, Maine has seceded from the United States, but is obviously still one of the 50 in The Running Man; that could conceivably be explained by saying that Maine rejoined the Union before 2025, but that would be just making shit up that isn't in the text; (2) there are no mentions in The Running Man of the massive disasters that seems to be sweeping the globe in 11/22/63; and (3) similarly, there are no mentions of Free-Vee, The Running Man, or The Network.
- Despite all that, it is tempting for me to consider the possibility that the universe of The Running Man exists only within the pocket reality that is temporarily created by the actions taken by one Mr. Jake Epping. I don't think the idea actually works (there is too much evidence against it), but it's fun to think about.
I'll be back sometime in the next few days with a spoiler-free review of part two of the King/Hill short story "In the Tall Grass," which appears in the new issue of Esquire.
Until then, just remember: rich folks smoke Dokes.