Two audiobooks, with plots circuitous 🎧

About mini reviews:

Maybe you’re not an audio book person, or maybe you are. I provide mini reviews of audio books and give a recommendation on the format. Was this book improved by a voice actor? Would a physical copy have been better? Perhaps they complement each other? Read on. . .

In True Story by Kate Reed Petty, a high school girl who goes to private school attends The Party to End All Parties, hosted by the local public high school’s lacrosse team. She — Alice — drinks too much and passes out. Nick, a lacrosse player who thinks he’s just trying to be a good guy, drives the drunk girl and his teammate Max to the girl’s house where they leave her on her porch.

Later, at a 24-hour breakfast place, the guys tell a story in which they kinda-sorta-maybe sexually assaulted Alice. The only female at the table is Hailey, a girl Nick has a crush on. She’s disgusted by what the team says about Alice. But what really happened? Are Nick and Max making up stories to impress “the guys,” or did they do something?

True Story has an interesting format. Movie scripts written by Hailey and Alice in middle school back when they were friends have their own sections. Nick has his own chapters in adulthood when he’s failed at most things and is now an alcoholic. We catch up with Alice, a woman who is being held captive by an abusive boyfriend who adds small doses of poison to her food and drink. We follow Alice’s approximately twenty attempts to write a letter to get into college (filled with her tutor’s comments, Alice’s edits, and the rewritten attempts).

While there were interesting scenes, much of the book is a hazy, dreamy stupor — is Nick hallucinating because he’s drunk? do drunks hallucinate? is Alice being poisoned or is she over-worked? — making it hard to track metaphors, or reality. While the stories of Nick, Hailey, and Alice never fully converge, we do learn an important fact from Alice at the end that spoiled the book for me. And the crux of the story (apparently), the sexual assault that kinda-sorta-maybe-we’re-not-sure-if-it-happened that happened? Isn’t really the crux other than for Hailey, who believes Alice must tell her story, even if Alice doesn’t want to, even if Alice was blacked out and doesn’t know her own story.

The audiobook narrators (Kristen Sieh, Alexander Candese, and Cassandra Campbell) all read well, with Candese’s work especially emphasizing the careless, toxic nature of teen boys who are raised to take and take and consider only themselves.


In Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, the novel opens in a theater. The main actor, Arthur, exhibits signs of a heart attack, so EMT-in-training Jeevan jumps on stage and attempts CPR. Arthur dies. An eight-year-old girl in the play, Kristen, is shaken up. After Jeevan leaves, his friend who works in a hospital emergency room warns Jeevan to get out of the city. Some sort of highly-contagious, deadly flu is filling up the ER. Cut to a bar where folks are talking about the play. The section ends with a line about the bartender being the only one who will still be alive in three weeks.

I was all set for a pandemic novel, maybe a classy riff on the zombie tale of survival, but St. John Mandel cuts to twenty years into the future. Kristen is a young woman in a travelling symphony. Sort of like Mad Max with instruments?? Some people perform Shakespeare, too. Arts in the apocalypse is an interesting concept, but it seems that St. John Mandel ditches the idea and cuts back to pre-pandemic when Arthur (the dead actor) was a young man trying to make it on the big screen. He marries Miranda, who is working on a comic book project called Station Eleven. He cheats on Miranda with a model named Elizabeth and gets married to Elizabeth. On and on about Arthur and his girlfriends. Where is Jeevan??

I chose to DNF Station Eleven at 50% because I couldn’t tell where it was going on what kind of book my mind needed to be ready for. It wasn’t the breakdown of society in a plague. It wasn’t the survival of the fittest in the apocalypse. It wasn’t a love story. It wasn’t a story about the importance of performing arts. It wasn’t, it wasn’t, it wasn’t. I felt like I was wandering around with the characters, although technically the travelling symphony always had a destination.

Kristen Potter does a fantastic job reading different genders, accents, and ages. There was nothing about her performance that contributed to my DNFing the novel.

24 comments

  1. Okay, so I may have unintentionally lied to you on my like of Station Eleven. Seeing your DNF, I went on Goodreads to check my own review and I finished it, enjoyed it a bit but didn’t understand all the hype. And somehow years later, I thought I enjoyed it more than I did. Oh brain!
    “I sat and absorbed how I felt about this book for several days before I sat down and reviewed it. I enjoyed it, I think it’s worth the read but I don’t think it would ever make my list of top dystopian books. My major problem was that I didn’t feel there was a cohesive point to this entire novel. *shrugs shoulders*” -from my review

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  2. I put Station Eleven down after the first big jump. I think it was at a time when it seemed like every single novel I picked up had some sort of dramatic jump … and I looked up at least one of them to figure out if it was worth finishing and learned it was the author playing with you, not the character. I know so many people like Station Eleven, though, so I’m wondering if I should try it again.

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  3. I haven’t read or listened to either of them, though I get through a lot of audiobooks and most of them American. Though both seem like difficult formats for listening to rather than reading and being able to flick back and re-check stuff. I’ll go on Borrowbox and see if either of them is available. (I listened to The Snow Queen last week and it’s already fading. Reviewing audiobooks is hard).

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  4. Sorry to hear Station Eleven was a disappointment! It’s one of my favourites but it’s definitely a bit meandering. I can’t really see it working well as an audiobook.

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    • I was interested in the travelling orchestra, but I decided to stop because so much was focused on the dead actor’s marriages, and that’s just not really what I wanted to read about. It felt same ‘ol to me when the premise sounded unique.

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      • Oh yes, I can’t really remember anything about the actor’s marriages. I remember the travelling orchestra and the man stuck at the airport – both stories that were about the importance of art/”culture” even in times of crisis. The “survival is insufficient” theme running through is what did it for me.

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        • I do love post-apocalyptic stories about what it means to live vs. survive. In a way, it’s one of the reasons I love the zombie movie Dawn of the Dead. They end up in the mall, completely secured, and have access to all kinds of things to keep them alive and entertained. But what does it mean to simply survive? It’s not enough.

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  5. I can recall not liking the Arthur storyline as much in Station Eleven but I’d almost completely forgotten about it. It was the other characters and the story of the travelling actors that really stayed with me.

    I knew nothing about True Story when I got it as an ARC last year and so it came as a really delightful surprise. I liked the way the author played with different forms and I enjoyed the ambiguity and uncertainty of what the truth really was.

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    • The Arthur storyline felt strangely ho-hum and familiar! I guess I didn’t want a dead guy and his sex/dating life to be the focus, which it was for quite a while when I DNF’d.

      I think True Story might come off better in text. Another reader mentioned that it has a lot of formatting choices that are important, which may not have come off as clearly in audio. I did know what was a movie script, a college letter, etc., though, so it was clear that formatting choices were made.

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  6. Oof, sorry to hear Station Eleven didn’t work for you at this time. It’s one of my favorites. I disagree with one of your points, in that in my mind it very much is a book about the importance of the performing arts, that we need art to really be human. Perhaps you just didn’t get to the resolution point of that thread before you stopped. I do agree, it’s not about what happens when society breaks down – at least not the IMMEDIATE breakdown. So it’s not a standard dystopian novel. We get flashes and hints of what that awful period was like for various characters but it’s more about what happens when those left alive sort of settle down to their new “normal.” Oh well. Maybe it would work better in print? Maybe not.

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    • I wanted to know more about the arts in the pandemic, yes! You’re right about that! My beef was that so much of the first half of the audio book was spent on Arthur’s former wives, and I didn’t care about that at all. I also really wanted to know what the EMT guy was up to! But, it was about 50% and a whole lot of Arthur, so I stopped.

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  7. Ok the first book sounds creepy as hell. Someone slowly poisoning your food that you are married to? Yikes. I’ve admittedly never read Station Eleven, but Canadians went hella crazy for that book. I liked the sort of sequel to it, The Glass Hotel, but she most definitely jumps around in it, so understandable about the DNF, you have to prepare yourself for it I think.

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    • I didn’t realize The Glass Hotel was a sequel(ish). I’m thinking this author’s choices of plot just aren’t for me.

      True Story is a thriller, and I can see you enjoying it. The truth is never obvious, and that fact shapes the way the characters live.

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  8. True Story sounds like a difficult book in audio format – too discontinuous for my liking.

    I really enjoyed Station Eleven and though I remember there were sections about the actor I don’t recall anything about his marriages. what I remember most was the travelling theatre group and their attempts to keep safe and away from the influence of the Prophet.

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    • It is truly wild how many comments are just like yours, Karen! No one remembers Arthur’s wives and marriages. There is much time spent on his getting to know, and then marrying, Miranda, creator of the comic Station Eleven. There is much about her past and being married to a painter who used her, too.

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