Pat Conroy’s “South of Broad” audiobook, narrated by Mark Deacons, reels the listener in with its richly captivating voice, for the most part, yet it could possibly benefit immeasurably from intermittent music, provided that it doesn’t interfere with the oration. Many fiction audiobooks in this genre suffer a similar fate: it may be useful for narrators to borrow form old-time radio standards of the fifties to provide inspiration and examples: perhaps an introduction with music that somehow sews together this tightly knit community of Charleston, South Carolina, could add greatly to the dramatic effect of the piece. The orator from “South of Broad” in moments seems slightly emotionally removed from the dialogue, thereby producing a mechanical performance—one that leaves the listener unaffected. The accent also is pronounced and heightened successfully at times, while at other times the accent appears to fall by the way side. Before an audiobook release of a professional caliber, there needs to be careful attention on the accent, so that it can replete the fictive work instead of draw from it; Deacon’s narration, although effective at times, pulls the listener out of the experience because of the flimsy accent.
The highly masculine, powerful voice that crackles with confidence may successfully project the novelist’s intention, but when there are abundant choices within the current audiobook fiction cannon, sound is the only medium in which to produce results, so it needs to grab the listener’s ears and not let go. This is not to say that Deacon’s relatively perfunctory narration may be above his rivals; in fact, many competitors in this genre tend to sound at times like bankers instead of storytellers. The narrator in “The Time Traveler’s Wife” seems to have the whole thing down however: there appears to be energy in the right place—appropriate, believable enthusiasm that suffers far less monotony than so many other audio narratives. In addition, the narration in the “Traveler’s Wife” effectively ranges from energetic, mysterious voicing that aptly drops into a whisper when the right moment approaches. Like any art form however, the process of effective audio narration requires talent, patience and the ability to captivate an audience. This does not require pandering to an audience that is only capable of being interested at the sound of sex and violence, yet it requires some analysis, and perhaps once again, it may require borrowing from the genius of fifties radio narration.
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