Substitute Voices

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Not every writer is a great reader of their own work. (This writer, raising his hand.) In listening to audiobooks, I have found over the years, substitute voices for writers who don’t narrate their own work. I think of these voices as if it is the writer’s own voice. There is a comfort and familiarity to them that make listening to such books a pleasures.

I’ve been reading (and in some instances re-reading) Roger Angell in light of his recent passing at 101. For his book, This Old Man: All In Pieces, Author Morey is the narrator, and on this second pass through this book, Morey’s voice has become that of Roger Angell in my mind. There are few Angell audiobooks, but I don’t think I could bear to listen to one that wasn’t in Morey’s voice. Indeed, I have a small stack of Angell books accumulating on my desk that I’m making my way through, and when I read them, I don’t hear my “inner voice”, I hear Arthur Morey.

Similarly, Malcolm Hillgartner has because the substitute voice of E. B. White. One Man’s Meat is probably my favorite collection of essays, all of them narrated by Hillgartner, all of them in a way that seems to me to channel the casual clarity of White’s writing. Hillgartner narrates several of White’s essay collections so that he has become the voice of E. B. White in my mind, the way that Morey has become the voice of Roger Angell (who also happens to be White’s stepson).

This works for fiction, too. I can imagine no one besides George Guidall as the voice of Walt Longmire. I’m not sure I could bring myself to listen to a Longmire book that wasn’t narrated by Guidall. Guidall is more Longmire in my mind than Robert Taylor, who played Longmire on the television series.

George Guidall is also my Roland in Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. Guidall narrates the first, fifth, sixth, and seventh books in the series. Another great narrator, the late Frank Muller, takes on books two, three, and four. Muller does a good job, and his Eddie Dean beats out Guidall’s, but for my money, the voice of Roland Deschain is George’s voice, not Frank’s.

In Stephen King’s 11/22/63, Craig Wasson is Jake Epping/George Amberson. He does such a phenomenal job with that character that I have not been able to listen to Wasson’s other performances. I just can’t. He is and always will be Jake Epping to me. This is a shame, as I am sure I am missing out on other great Wasson performances.

Now that I have started to write fiction again, I find that I sometimes imagine who might narrate the audio version of my stories. I read a line, and try it out as Guidall, or Hillgartner, and finally settle on Arthur Morey for this particular character. The story may never see the light of day, but it is a new way for me to think about the voice of the story. About the only think I can say for certain: the voice will not be mine.

Written on May 26, 2022.

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