Friday, March 25, 2011

The Brave by Nicholas Evans (unabridged audio book read by Michael Emerson)

Nicholas Evans, a British author with a fascination for the American West (he also wrote The Horse Whisperer), returns to his forte with The Brave. It centers on Tommy Bedford, a divorced documentary filmmaker with an estranged son, and Evans leaps back and forth in time as he covers different parts of Tommy's life.

The primary focus is on his childhood, including his time at boarding school, the dotage of his sister Diane — an aspiring, then famous, actress (then convicted murderess) — and her turbulent relationship with TV cowboy Ray Montane.

Montane is the star of Sliprock, and he's watching the coming end of the heyday of the Western — and watching his grip on Diane crumble under the weight of lies.

We also learn about Tommy's courtship of his wife Gina, which leads to marriage and the birth of their son Danny. In the present, Tommy is trying to reconnect with Danny after a long period of estrangement. Danny is an Iraq war veteran, a lance corporal currently under investigation by the Marines. Evans juggles a number of storylines without giving a single one short shrift.

All in all, The Brave is a satisfying, moving listen filled with genuine human drama. It will likely appeal to a wide variety of listeners, from fans of TV Westerns and classic Hollywood, to those who appreciate coming-of-age tales, picaresques, and mainstream literary fiction — old or young, male or female — because its main subject is families, both the ones we're born with and the ones we choose.

This isn't usually the kind of novel I seek out to read, but the Western connection intrigued me enough to begin it, and then I had to see it out to the end. Actor Michael Emerson (Ben Linus on Lost) does a fine job reading The Brave. His voices are sometimes indistinguishable, and his characters' accents seem to come and go, but his gentle narration allows the material to bloom.

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