James Patrick Cronin performance as the voice of Joseph March is raw edged and brittle. Joe is a young man who lives with depression., although he would never call it that. Cronin’s voice moves between no emotion, to a strained, taut characterisation, to an adrenaline packed anxious excitement. Right from the beginning it’s clear from Cronin’s voicing that whatever Joseph March has been through as he tells the story of his family and of the love of his life, it’s not all beer and skittles.
Joe March is 20 in 1991, living in Los Angeles. It’s a summer of travel, meeting new people, working odd jobs and relaxing. Until it hits him:
…out of thin air it arrived in the dead centre of my chest. A dull, cold pain. It knocked the paperback from my hand, it closed my eyes, and there in the dark I saw thick tar inching through my body. Then, as the pain sharpened, a blue-black bird, its talons piercing my lungs.
Joe despises descriptions such as “blue”, “feeling low” or “sadness”.
There is that word they use, but it is severely insufficient, and one I loathe. I’m not talking about sadness. I’m not despondent. I’m talking about the body. I’m talking about invasion and possession. This is a physical thing.
While working at a bar Joe meets a woman who knocks him off his feet. Tess is supposed to be a summer romance, but when Joe gets a life changing phone call Tess follows him to White Pine.
In White Pine Joe’s mother is imprisoned for the murder of a man who was assaulting his partner in a shopping centre car park. Anne Marie March has been convicted by a jury but there are other people who see her as an anti-domestic-violence hero, Tess among them.
The adrenaline that Joe gets from following Tess’ increasingly militant response to domestic violence seems to be what keeps him going, keeping the thick tar from his veins and the blue-black bird from piercing him.
Maksik’s previous novel A Marker to Measure Drift, narrated by Angelle Haney Gullet and published by Random House Audio was the remarkable story of a woman who is homeless, having fled Liberia to an island in the Agean. There’s something spellbinding about the prose and the characters in A Marker to Measure Drift. It is more compelling than Shelter in Place. Nonetheless, Joseph and Tess have an unusual dynamic, and the metaphors used to describe Joseph’s depression convey his experiences in a way more empathetic than many other novels I have come across.
Cronin’s narration adds a layer to Joseph’s voice that would be missed on the page. His performance creates for the reader the fragility, the anxiety and the fine thread that has held Joseph for so long.
As usual a top production from Blackstone Audio.
Shelter in Place • by Alexander Maksik • read by James Patrick Cronin • 10.1 hours • published by Blackstone Audio • September 13, 2016 • ISBN 9781504749725