2 Audible Originals: ‘Song Of The Northwoods’ and ‘People In Hell Want Ice Water’

I’ve been using Audible Originals as a sort of lucky dip to try out authors and stories that aren’t in my normal range of choices. I like that Audible Originals are commissioning work from emerging novelists and playwrights. It also helps that many of them are included free with my audible membership.

This month I’ve tried an audio-play and a short story, both of them under two hours long. The play was fun. The short story turned out not to be my sort of thing.

‘Song Of The Northwoods’ (2022) by Jessica Huang.
Length 1 hours 48 minutes. Full-cast audio drama

If you want an example of what a good audio-play should be like, try ‘Song of the Northwoods’.

It’s a thriller that actually fills, providing lots of moments of tension and threat pulled together by a clever plot with lots of credible and satisfying twists.

I listened to ‘Song of the Northwoods’ while wearing over-ear headphones. The sound quality was astonishing. It was a 3D listening experience that helped me lose myself in the play and which added texture to the performance.

‘Song of the Northwoods’ is a full-cast performance but with the story being told as a series of curated recordings, presented by the main character, Song Yuan, in the form of a radio show / podcast. This format worked well as a structure for revealing the central mystery and giving insight into the characters and was perfect for capturing all the action as an audio play.

The cast did a great job, especially Michele Selene Ang who played Song.

‘People In Hell Want Ice Water’ (2020) by Dan Lepucki,
1 hour 21 minutes narrated by Dan Bittner

Have you ever listened to a piece of music and found that, even though it was well-written and well-performed it never slid past your critical thought process to get your feet tapping or your emotions surging? ‘People In Hell Want Ice Water’ was the textual analogue of that for me.

The story is immediately accessible. It’s told as a first-person account given by a character who never filters any of his thoughts. It’s set in the hills above LA while the COVID-19 Stay At Home Order was in place and does a good job of evoking the emotional stress associated with the restrictions.

I found I believed completely in Colin and understood and accepted how he saw Martha.

I read the story to the end, carried along by the quality of the prose and because I couldn’t see where the story was going. Unfortunately, the destination it arrived at had no meaning for me beyond ‘So? Why should I care?’

I didn’t like Colin or Martha. I would have hated to have been in quarantine with either of them. He was weak, whiney and self-pitying. She seemed shallow and transactional in her relationships. She used wine and drugs and sex to escape from reality or perhaps to substitute for it. I had no sympathy for either of them. Together, they were toxic. Which didn’t make them tragic or even interesting. At least not to me.

I know that my dislike of Colin and Martha is a tribute to Edan Lepucki’s skill but it did nothing for my enjoyment of the story.

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