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Sandra Allen did not know her uncle Bob very well. As a child, she had been told he was "crazy", that he had spent time in mental hospitals while growing up in Berkeley in the '60s and '70s. But Bob had lived a hermetic life in a remote part of California for longer than she had been alive, and what little she knew of him came from rare family reunions or odd, infrequent phone calls. Then in 2009 Bob mailed her his autobiography. Typewritten in all caps, a stream of error-riddled sentences over 60 single-spaced pages, the often incomprehensible manuscript proclaimed to be a "true story" about being "labeled a psychotic paranoid schizophrenic" and arrived with a plea to help him get his story out to the world.
In A Kind of Mirraculas Paradise, Allen translates her uncle's autobiography, artfully creating a gripping coming-of-age story while sticking faithfully to the facts as he shared them. Lacing Bob's narrative with chapters providing greater contextualization, Allen also shares background information about her family, the culturally explosive time and place of her uncle's formative years, and the vitally important questions surrounding schizophrenia and mental health care in America more broadly. The result is a heartbreaking and sometimes hilarious portrait of a young man striving for stability in his life as well as his mind and an utterly unique lens into an experience that, to most people, remains unimaginable.
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By Halley's Comet on 04-19-18
Insightful Memoir, Performance a Turn Off
This book is a wonderful presentation of a memoir written by a diagnosed psychotic, paranoid schizophrenic who was the uncle of the author. Interspersed with the retelling of the story of "Bob" — is commentary by the author on a wide range of related topics ranging from the history of the treatment of mental illness to her interviews with other members of the family in an effort to corroborate Bob's version of his life with their remembrances of events, or not — as the case may be, and to get all the various memories and versions of how things happened concerning Bob and his many hospitalizations, jobs, living accommodations, etc. This is well researched and informative.
The problem lies in the performance aspect of this audio version. The character of Bob is narrated by one Pete Simonelli, who is simply wonderful and really captures the essence of Bob in a unique but pleasantly droll voice. In short, five stars to Pete's narration. Now here's the problem, which cannot be adequately addressed in audible's request for star ratings on the narration: there are two narrators. The author, Sandra Allen, also narrates — as author, as commentator, and in presenting those research artifacts of the story. It is often as problematic for an author to narrate their own work as it is for local business owners to insist on voicing their own radio commercials. The results are all too frequently just awful. Sandra's narration is so bad it almost lost me in the first chapter. I'm glad I stuck it out to hear Pete Simonelli as Bob, but then back would come the grating voice, the nasal assassination of every vowel in sight, the mispronunciations, the gritty hardness of the "r's" sounding as if a spittoon should be requested and the alternating annoying sing-songy up and down delivery common with amateur speakers and first timers with no coaching and the habit that is trenchant among millennials of ending every statement on an upswing note as if it were a question. Just horrible to listen to for an entire book. Even the name Bob, which as you can imagine is repeated endlessly, comes out in a long, nasally, assassinated BAAAAAHHHHB. A sheep in narrator's clothing?
I would simply BEG the publisher, Scribner, to never let this author narrate another audio book unless some requirements for speech training are fulfilled. Accent correction, enunciation, softening of harsh vowels mispronounced and clearing out the gritty "r's". I just can't say enough about how awful this narration is.
My advice: read the book, skip the Audible. For me, I like to listen to audio books while doing my daily walking of 2-3 miles a day. I only stuck with this thanks to Pete's work and the subject matter.
Now about the writing. Bob, it must be remembered, is the actual writer, the real author — NOT Sandra. She is just putting the manuscript that came typed in all caps into a readable form, paraphrasing and adding research on mental illness. The research is very good, and the book is a worthy addition to literature on schizophrenia with the bonus that it is a first hand account by the person diagnosed, along with the stories of parents and siblings and anyone else Sandra could reach for comment.
There is one ongoing problem with the writing that is comparable with Sandra's poor narration skills in the annoyance factor, and it is this: similes that are insufferable. It starts right away, and never slows down, not even when it's Bob's voice and you know Bob didn't say these things, it's Sandra imparting similes into Bob's mouth, trying so very hard to be a clever writer. The result is overkill, as the similes are overwrought, with the air of a writer trying way too hard to prove cleverness. The writing comes off like something written for a class in college, not as an adult's work getting published in the real world. Why the editors at Scribner didn't calm down the similes is beyond me, but editors don't seem to do much at all these days. I am tempted to use a simile myself to describe the book being littered with them. Here goes: the similes come like carpet bombs strafing the landscape of the pages with shrapnel and debris. Like that debris, it needs to be cleaned up. Ugh.
Other little annoyances pop up showing the author's young age and failure to research historical objects and events adequately. When she refer's to a Karmann Ghia of Bob's breaking down and makes a reference to the engine being in the front like most cars, we know she doesn't know what she's talking about. For anyone who knows cars, and for anyone who was around at the time, we know that like the VW Beetle, the Volkswagen Karmann Ghia's engine was IN THE REAR, dear. In the rear. Again, where's the editor on this kind of thing? It's actually a significant error.
In summary: skip the audio, read the book. Try not to grimace too much at the barrage of overcooked similes on every page. Then it will be o.k.
My biggest criticism then, goes to the publishers who allowed the author to narrate her own book instead of hiring a professional voice to work next to Pete, and their lack of editing.
So the stars are mixed. Pete gets 5 stars, Sandra gets a 1 or a minus 1 on narration.
Writing is that of a beginner, so writing gets a 3 at best. The story, BOB'S STORY, gets a 5 star rating. Make your way through all that.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
By Armando on 02-25-18
Instead of looking for what makes someone wrong or different, we should appreciate alternative perspectives for challenging our own and forcing considerations which may not occur in a bleak, one thought society. This book explores this concept and is important in narrating a story which often goes untold.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful