Chris Boh­jalian looks close to home for audiobook narrator

Grace Blewer, daughter of novelist Chris Bohjalian, narrates “Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands." (Photo by Robert Mannis)
Grace Blewer, daughter of novelist Chris Bohjalian, narrates “Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands.” (Photo by Robert Mannis)

Chris Boh­jalian’s apocalyptic novel, “Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands,” got a rave review recently in The Washington Post. The story about a teenage girl fending for herself after a nuclear plant melts down in Vermont marks a dramatic new direction for Bohjalian.

But the audiobook version of the novel marks a dramatic new direction of a different sort: For the first time, Bohjalian’s daughter, Grace Blewer, is the narrator.

A drama major at New York University, Blewer spent three days in the Random House Audio studio recording her father’s 271-page novel.

“I felt a lot of pressure to get it right,” she says, “since I love the book so much and I know how attached Dad is to the character of Emily Shepard. I really wanted to get her voice right. There were a couple sections where it was hard to speak through the tears.” (Audio sample here.)

Their unusual writing-narrating partnership grew out of a long history of discussing his books.

“We had talked a lot about this novel as I was writing it,” Bohjalian says. “I often texted her questions about language: ‘What’s a hipster synonym for wasted? Is there a cool teen-speak word for money?’”

Blewer says she’s read almost all of her father’s published novels, including his 1998 bestseller, “Midwives,” which was an Oprah book club selection. But “Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands” has a special resonance for  her. “This one really spoke to me because it is about a girl my age from Vermont. And I loved the opportunity to teach him words like bitchcakes.”

(Courtesy of Random House Audio.)
(Courtesy of Random House Audio.)

Bohjalian has never narrated one of his novels himself, choosing instead to use professional actors, such as Alison Fraser, Mark Bramhall and Kate Burton. And this time, despite the parental temptation, he stayed away from the studio. “I treated it the way I do all my audiobooks,” he says, “and had nothing at all to do with the recording. Kelly Gildea, a great director and producer at Random House Audio, was in charge of the production.”

Once in the studio, Grace says she discovered how long and complicated her father’s sentences are.

But Dad couldn’t be happier. “I love the way Grace brought Emily Shepard to life,” Bohjalian says, “and the way she gets Emily’s sense of humor — and what the character describes as her ‘brain chemistry issues.’ It’s a poignant and powerful and authentic reading.”

Ron Charles is the editor of The Washington Post's Book World. For a dozen years, he enjoyed teaching American literature and critical theory in the Midwest, but finally switched to journalism when he realized that if he graded one more paper, he'd go crazy.
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