Richard Yates’s 1969 novel A Special Providence gets a contemporary update in this version, part of Audible’s Modern Vanguard Series, with narration by Suzanne Toren and Jeff Woodman. Yates, who may be best known for his first novel, Revolutionary Road, and the Leo-and-Kate film version it spawned, looks at a very different kind of male-female relationship in Providence: here, he highlights the connection between a mother and son before, during, and after WWII.
The mother is Alice Prentice, a single parent and aspiring artist who believes the world holds more for her than financial struggles and unreliable men; her son, Robert, is a solider struggling to survive the fighting in Europe. As the story shifts back and forth between the characters and to and from different times in their lives, Woodman anchors the story with an understated narration that’s rich and emotional. From Robert’s facing the front lines of battle to his navigating a conflict with the other enlisted men, Woodman brings a realistic mix of ambition, fear, and youth to the character. Toren chimes in on the women’s voices primarily Alice, but also her friends and her sister and brings the right mix of real confidence and false bravado to luckless Alice, whether she’s trying to start her own art school or convince herself that Robert will come home.
Much of A Special Providence is reportedly based on Yates’ own life Robert’s war time mimics Yates’ service, and Alice Prentice is said to be a thinly-disguised take on Yates’ own mother, Ruth and the sincere narration combined with Yates’ honest prose makes this an essential listen for fans of the author. Blythe Copeland