Audiobook Review: The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories, by Don DeLillo

07 December 2011

You know those times when you're craving the literary high-life, but lack the ability to commit to something as dense as War and Peace? The days that you want some thought-provoking, snobbish sounding literature to move you, but you don't have the time - or the attention span - to tackle something too daunting? I find that this is where short story collections fit the bill, and Don DeLillo's first collection, The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories, is no exception.

All nine of DeLillo's stories, written between 1979 and 2011, take everyday events and reveal the unsettling sense of dread that lines even the most mundane of actions. In "Creation," a couple heads to the airport to catch a flight home from the West Indies, only to find that they did not check in often enough, their plane is oversold, no seats until the next day, must stay another night and wait for the next flight out. It is a simple case of the agony of long-distance travel, and all of the hassles of flying, but in DeLillo's hands, this morphs into an exotic, neverending saga of abandonment and uncertainty. In "The Ivory Acrobat," a woman must struggle with the anxieties of everyday in a Greece riddled with earthquakes and aftershocks. What does it matter what we eat for breakfast if our entire kitchen may fail to exist at the end of the day? What power do we have to stop Mother Nature?

This underlying theme of dread and anxiety does not make for particularly uplifting reading (or, in the case of the audiobook, listening), but DeLillo's fine writing coupled with superb narration by a cast of voices is gripping in a way that won't let you stop once you start. DeLillo captures the world around us - or the imagined world of our possible futures - with such precision and detail that it is impossible not to believe him, or his narrators, and think about how our own lives might look when cast under such a detailed eye. What anxieties run through our everyday that seem mundane, but truly impact the outcome of each of our days? Our months? Our entire lives?

The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories is a short collection, amounting to just six hours on audio, and easily digested, but has the one-two punch impact that short stories often carry. The collection functioned as the perfect dose of short story literature, an ideal introduction to DeLillo (though, having read of his other works, I might not be the best reader to make that particular call), and the kind of book that I believe will live with me for a while. And those, I find, are the best kinds.

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A note on the audio: The narrators chosen for each of these nine stories vary from one to the next, but each proves perfect for their selections. The narration is clear and concise, and easy to understand. My only complaint would be the length of the tracks, which I believe is a trait of S&S audiobooks - I'm not into 20-minute tracks, which makes it hard to skip back if needed, or move a disc, say, from the car to the house without losing the place.

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Note: Thanks to the publisher, Simon and Schuster Audio, for providing me with an audio copy of this title to review.

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The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories | Don DeLillo | Simon & Schuster Audio | 9781442348233 | $29.99 Audio CD | 6 CDs; 6 hrs, 16 min | November 2011 | Buy from an independent bookstore near you

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