Friday, June 19, 2015
Audio Book Review: Act of God
3 Stars - Recommended to fans of dark comedies parading as science fiction and raspy-voiced narrators
Length: approx 5 1/2 hours
Publisher: Random House Audio
Narrator: Barbara Rosenblat
Released: March 2015
It's summertime, 2015, and the city is in the grips of a nasty heatwave. Retired twin sisters Kat, who has lived her entire life evading responsibility, and Edith, an ex-librarian who has squirreled away letters from their mother's old advice column in the hopes of having them published one day, live together in a row house beneath Vida, an uppity actress and negligent landlady. Kat and Edith have been leaving messages for Vida regarding an odd smell in their apartment for weeks and now, well, they seem to have stumbled upon an odd, glowing mushroom growing out of their closet wall.
Turns out Vida has one in her apartment too, which she uncovered in the back of her own storage closet, along with a surprised young Russian runaway who was apparently squatting there unnoticed for months.
Hazmat is called in and the four women are forced to evacuate the property with nothing but the clothes they are wearing (and the letters Edith manages to smuggle out). The Super-Mold is unlike anything the city has seen before and it begins to spread at a incredibly rapid pace. Vida's insurance company calls it an "Act of God" and the remainder of the book is spent following the now-homeless and bereft women as they move through the city, dazed and confused, and leaving a trail of sparkling spores in their wake.
The audio book was a pleasure to listen to. Admittedly, Rosenblat's voice took a bit of getting used to - she's got this very throaty, raspy smokers-voice but I felt it actually fit the main characters' personalities quite well. It's strange, I can still hear her voice in my head as I'm recalling parts of the book for this review.
I've come to the conclusion that Jill Ciment has one strange sense of humor. Her characters were just eccentric enough, their situation just bizarre enough, to categorize it as dark comedy, though she teased the hell out of us in the beginning there. I see some people have the novel shelved as science fiction over at Goodreads but, sadly, there was nothing other-worldly to be found. I do admit that, as I listened to the book, there was a big part of me that was hoping the Super-Mold would've had extraterrestrial origins, or that the Russian girl would turn out to be not quite human. Maybe that's a residual effect of having read and loved Jeff VanderMeer's Southern Reach Trilogy? But I really felt as though that was the direction Ciment was initially taking us. There came a point in the audio where I just finally accepted that the book really was as straight forward as it seemed - sometimes mother nature just gets one over on us - and that there wasn't going to be some big mama-mushroom monster revealed to be amassing itself beneath the city, preparing to launch a war against humankind in a John Wyndham, Day of the Triffids sort of way.
Bummer that, too. That would have been pretty badass. Picture it, phosphorescent mushrooms weeble-wobbling down the streets, sparkling up the world with their deadly glowing spores, what a glorious apocalypse that would have been!