The Shakespeare Requirement
We first met Jason Fitger as the hapless author of the letters of recommendation and high umbrage that make up Julie Schumacher’s 2014 novel “Dear Committee Members.” This second installment moves from an epistolary approach to a full-on narrative one and is, if possible, even funnier than its predecessor. Schumacher reads the book herself and in her voice, impassive and fatalistic, we hear a lived sense of academic desolation and departmental rue. Fitger is now in the unwanted position of head of English, a department famous for “discord and dysfunction.” Matters have achieved a new level of turbulence with the necessity of coming up with a “Statement of Vision.” The first one proposed made no mention of requiring the study of Shakespeare, an intolerable deficiency in the view of the resident Shakespearean. All hell breaks loose. The imbroglio is a gift to Roland Gladwell, head of economics who hopes to capitalize on it to whittle English down to a nonentity — not that it isn’t pretty much one anyway. In fact, Gladwell’s imperial ambitions have reached into English’s physical territory to annex its conference room. What ensues is a tale worthy of Thucydides — assuming he had a sense of humor — with English as Athens and Economics as Sparta. (Random House Audio. Unabridged, 9 hours)
Fruit of the Drunken Tree
An air of menace pervades Ingrid Rojas Contreras’s thoroughly absorbing, terrifying and ultimately moving novel set chiefly in Bogota, Colombia, during the 1990s. These are the Pablo Escobar years, a period of kidnappings, bombings, massacres and assassinations perpetrated by narcos, paramilitary groups, revolutionary factions and the government itself. The story is told from the points of view of two girls: Chula, 7 years old at the start, is the younger of two daughters of a family living in a gated neighborhood. Thirteen-year-old Petrona is the family’s maid, now living in a shantytown; the family’s original home was burned by paramilitaries, and her father and older brothers have “disappeared.” Chula’s perfectly conjured world is shaped by snippets of overheard conversation, headlines, broadcasts and her older sister’s erroneous views. Chula’s sections are narrated by Marisol Ramirez, and Petrona’s by Almarie Guerra. Both beautifully capture the girls’ young voices and convey their uncertainty, shifting loyalties and sense of foreboding. Both are gifted bilingual narrators and deliver the many Spanish phrases with musical grace. (Random House Audio. Unabridged, 12½ hours.)
Katherine A. Powers reviews audiobooks every month for The Washington Post.