If you spend too many hours behind the wheel to read the new Harry Potter book, let alone a literature magazine, Verb provides some roadside assistance. Proclaimed as the world's first audio-only literary journal, it delivers impeccable fiction and poetry for your ears only.
Available in September either on a pair of CDs or for download at www.audible.com, the Decatur-based quarterly runs a risk of sinking into that tweedy, self-congratulatory National Public Radio tone, like a two-and-a-half-hour version of Garrison Keillor's "Writer's Almanac." Fortunately, not a speck of dust settles on Verb's debut issue, thanks mostly to the choice of nervy, compelling fiction.
Ha Jin's "In Broad Daylight," read with clinical clarity by Jennifer Deer, suggests Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" transplanted to rural China's cultural revolution, as a bloodthirsty village turns out to condemn an unapologetic local prostitute. Author Tom Franklin reads his own earthy, Edgar Award-winning short story, "Smonk Gets Out Alive," a concise tale of frontier justice featuring a villain so mean and unappealing, he's like the four horsemen of the apocalypse walking on two feet.
"Alvin's Wild Ride," Robert Olen Butler's 13,000-word excerpt from an unpublished novel, command's Verb's center. Butler gives a breathy, energetic reading that perfectly suits the voice of his narrator, an unpopular high schooler processing the aftermath of Sept. 11 through the prism of adolescent fantasies of sex and heroism. Raunchy and uproariously funny, "Alvin's Wild Ride" also finds the pathos in Alvin's innocent struggles with adult concerns.
Verb's most intriguing touch turns out to be its biggest stumble. Thomas Lux reads a selection of his poems, including "My Malaria," a quirky piece that personalizes the title ailment and offers a metaphor for the crosses we all have to bear. Inspired by Lux's poem, Stuart Dybek composes and sings a song called "My Malaria," but Dybek's interpretation dwells on overwrought clichés of burning obsession. The song weighs heavily while Lux's poem stays light.
South Carolina Poet Laureate Marjory Wentworth and the late James Dickey each introduce their poetry, which helps loosen the formality of verse on the page. Dickey's thick, slurred drawl can be indecipherable, but when he reads a Southern ghost story, he could be recalling a legend around a campfire. After hearing such lively literary tracks, you'll happily use Verb to turn your ride into a bookmobile.
Verb. University of Georgia Press. $19.95. Available for download on www.audible.com.
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