Audiobook Review: That’s How I Roll by Andrew Vachss

19 03 2012

That’s How I Roll by Andrew Vachss

Read by Phil Gigante

Dreamscape Audiobooks

Length: 6 Hrs 44 Min

Genre: Crime Fiction

Quick Thoughts: That’s How I Roll may not be an easy read, but it is a highly compelling work of fiction by a master story teller at the top of his game. Andrew Vachss has created a character that left me conflicted and uneasy, struggling between the horror at his actions and the sense of nobility I felt in his character.

Grade: A-

There is a strange sort of synchronicity that I am writing and posting my review of Andrew Vachss latest crime fiction novel on my birthday. As an audiobook fan and blogger, I often perform an intricate juggling act when choosing the titles I will listen to and review for this blog. While I tend to follow the “listen to what you enjoy” rule, the number of titles I know I will enjoy far outweigh the titles I can actually fit into my schedule. So, when it comes to a choice between two audiobooks, I often will factor in what would most appeal to my small but faithful audience. I know that the majority of my readers are speculative fiction fans. Out of my ten most popular reviews, only one isn’t either science fiction of fantasy. Yet, sometimes, I just have to choose a novel for me. Andrew Vachss is one of my favorite authors, and I would love to be his evangelist pushing all his work, but I never really consider that to be my role. I read Vachss’ work for me. I review his audiobooks because I hope someone on the fence about one of his titles will come to my blog for an honest look at his novels. I know I probably won’t create a host of new fans, and that’s OK. Yet, if I turn one or two people into Andrew Vachss fans, I honestly I feel I have done a good thing.

That’s How I Roll is the fictional first person memoir of Death Row inmate Esau Till, although unlike most memoirs, it is not self congratulatory, nor does Esau apologize, or attempt to justify his many crimes. This memoir serves one purpose, to protect his brother. In his latest no holds barred criminal character study, Andrew Vachss creates one of his most compelling and complex characters. Esau Till’s mind is as brilliant as his body is crippled. Born with Spina bifida into a culture that values physicality above all else, Esau must learn to overcome his abusive past, and genetic baggage to protect not only himself but his mentally slow brother Tory-boy. While this is an unapologetic and often brutal look at the life of a bomb maker and assassin, it is also one of the more touching tales of brotherly love and loyalty I have read. While Esau isn’t a likeable character and I often cringed at the decisions he would make for both himself and his brother, there is a strong sense of nobility that just bleeds off the page. Vachss brings an air of authenticity to how he presents his characters. Both Esau and Tory-boy have defects of body and mind, yet Vachss never uses these as excuses for their actions. In fact, Esau would look at any pity or the use of his disability as justification for his actions with scorn. As someone who has spent a lot of my life around and working with people with disabilities, one line of this novel, although simple, really touched me, “Treating Tory-boy like he was nothing special, was the most special thing anyone had ever done.” Lines and sentiments like this is one of the reasons that Vachss work always resonates with me. He brings a true understanding of his characters, their flaws and insecurities as well as the traits that really make who they are, better than almost anyone else I have read. His characters are never pretty, but they are always real. The plot of That’s How I Roll isn’t full of the game changing twists of some of his other Standalone novels, like The GetawayMan or Shella. Esau’s subtle narration isn’t that of a polished storyteller, but more of a real character, slowly preparing you for the ending you already know, building the layers one step at a time. What replaces the twist and turns of a typical crime fiction novel, is the emotional turmoil you feel as a reader, as you struggle to justify your almost innate desire to view physically handicapped characters with sympathy, with the brutal truths you are being told. That’s How I Roll may not be an easy read, but it is a highly compelling work of fiction by a master story teller at the top of his game. Andrew Vachss has created a character that left me conflicted and uneasy, struggling between the horror at his actions and the sense of nobility I felt in his character.

Phil Gigante narrates That’s How I Roll as well as the majority of Vachss previous work. Gigante is capable of some amazing vocal gymnastics that at times will blow me away, but it’s his ability to capture the edges of the characters that makes his performance in here special. Gigante presents Esau in a slow, straight forward manner that is quite fitting to the character. Esau Till isn’t a man prone to flowery speech. His memoirs serve a purpose and Gigante reads it in a slow deliberate manner as if every word is important. You never feel like the narration is attempting to prove anything to you, just presenting the truth of the situation as purposeful as possible. Gigante displays how important it is for a narrator to understand the characters. It reminded me of one of Vachss past novels, not narrated by Gigante, where the reader seemed to present the character with all the stereotypes that the author was trying to avoid. Although it was subtle, the vocal misinterpretation of a character can drastically change the overall feel of a novel, and this is a trap Gigante never falls into. Gigante reads That’s How It Rolls like the author intended it to be read, and that, to me, is the most important thing a narrator can do,

Note: A special thanks to the good people of Dreamscape Media for providing me with a copy of this title for review. This title will be available for purchase on March 20, 2012.



One response

22 03 2012

I didn’t realize any of Vachss books were on audio. And read by Phil Gigante? I need to get with the program. I’ve only read a few of his works, Shella is one of my favorites, and I keep meaning to catch up.

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