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3 Exuberant Audiobooks for a Drab Month

In my corner of New England, March is often the drabest month. Winter isn’t over, but spring hasn’t arrived, either. Sometimes it feels like everything is stuck in a brown in-between. I crave exciting, joyful listens during this season—audiobooks that celebrate the world in all its colors. Today I’m highlighting three recent titles that are chock-full of exuberance in many forms. These audiobooks feature celebratory narration and buoyant plots. They’re perfect for getting in the spirit of spring.

Martyr!Poet Kaveh Akbar’s debut novel MARTYR! is without question my favorite book of the year so far, and Arian Moayed’s narration is nothing short of miraculous. If you’re the sort of listener prone to sitting in your driveway because you can’t bear to pause the audiobook—well, get ready. The novel follows Cyrus Shams, a floundering Iranian American poet and recovering addict. Grieving the long-ago death of his mother and recent death of his father, he becomes fascinated by the idea of martyrdom and what it means to die a meaningful death. When he hears about an Iranian artist who is living out her last days in the Brooklyn Museum as a performance art piece, he goes to see it—a decision that changes his life in unexpected ways.

It’s impossible to sum up the endless layers of this beautiful novel, and it’s impossible to describe just how perfectly Moayed narrates it. He navigates the novel’s unusual structure, which includes short chapters from the points of view of Cyrus’s family and friends and made-up dialogues between real and imagined people, with ease. He effortlessly captures various Iranian and American accents. But it’s his characterization of Cyrus that makes his narration truly exceptional. Cyrus feels so deeply and so earnestly, and all of this emotion is palpable in Moayed’s voice. He doesn’t hold back. He spits out words, uses dramatic emphasis, increases his volume, lets his voice crack. It’s the sort of unforgettable performance that will have you holding your breath.

GRETA & VALDINNatalie Beran and Jackson Bliss give slightly less extravagant but equally wonderful performances in Rebecca K. Reilly’s wise and hilarious millennial romp, GRETA & VALDIN. Set in New Zealand, the novel follows two queer Russian Māori siblings as they navigate dating, career, mental health, and their loving but wildly chaotic family. Beran voices Greta, a PhD student who’s not really sure what she wants or where her life is going. Bliss portrays her older brother Valdin, who’s recently left his career in academia to host a travel TV show, and who definitely hasn’t recovered from being dumped by his boyfriend. Bliss excels at capturing Valdin’s many moods, and Beran gets Greta’s attitude just right: slightly detached, but brimming with warmth underneath. The novel is full of snappy dialogue, often between many family members at once, and both narrators navigate these scenes with ease. Eilidh Beaton, Nico Evers-Swindell, and Gary Furlong appear at the very end as Greta’s girlfriend, the siblings’ cousin, and their uncle. Though short, these performances add to the rich texture of the story and help bring this sprawling, dysfunctional-but-working-on-it, and irresistible family to life.

WALKING PRACTICENicky Endres is exuberance personified in WALKING PRACTICE by Dolki Min, translated from the Korean by Victoria Caudle. Their performance has the energy of a stage play or live concert; it’s playful in all the ways this strange and compelling novel is playful. It’s a speculative romp about a shape-shifting alien who crash-landed on earth and is now stranded. They’ve determined the only way they can survive is by eating humans, and they’ve come up with the most effective way to hunt: They go on dates, lure people into having sex with them, and then attack. It’s gross and a little unsettling and also very funny. Endres captures the humor and ferocity of the alien narrator as well as their loneliness and genuine curiosity about humans. They brilliantly translate the unusual formatting in the text by stretching out some words and speeding up others; shifting their pitch; using an array of voices and accents; and incorporating all sorts of other sounds–screams, laughs, and moans. It’s a wild, unforgettable ride.

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