Beloved writers and big-name narrators make this month’s audio picks extra special.
Written just a few months into the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown, Zadie Smith’s Intimations captures our current moment with astute observations, imagination and empathy. Through personal essays that focus on small moments to reveal profound truths, Smith notes how the virus is changing the behavior of her New York City neighbors. She also explores the ways that racism rages unchecked, as if it were another type of virus. It’s astounding that Smith, an award-winning writer of both fiction and nonfiction, has already gained such perspective on the present, an accomplishment that typically requires more time and distance. She is a gifted storyteller, and her narration makes it feel all the more personal. This is a worthy listen, even if just for the various New York characters who interrupt Smith’s proper British narration.
★ When No One Is Watching
The first suspense novel from critically acclaimed romance author Alyssa Cole, When No One Is Watching is a social thriller about gentrification gone extra bad. Sydney Green is living in her mother’s Brooklyn home when she notices the neighborhood beginning to change. She reluctantly teams up with Theo, one of her many new white neighbors, to research the history of the neighborhood for a tour she’s planning to give. When the neighborhood’s Black residents start disappearing in suspicious ways, Sydney knows there must be more going on. This raucously funny, shocking thriller, narrated by Susan Dalian and Jay Aaseng, will ring eerily true to anyone who’s lived in a gentrifying neighborhood. Dalian’s narration gives us a sense of Sydney’s no-nonsense attitude and sharp wit, while Aaseng gives Theo a chill, cool-dude vibe.
In Beth O’Leary’s The Switch, career-focused Leena is forced into a two-month sabbatical from work, so she decides to home-swap with her newly divorced grandmother, Eileen. Leena learns how to slow down and connect with her new Yorkshire neighbors, while Eileen has a thing or two to teach everyone in the big city of London— and they both have fun exploring the men in their new surroundings. Narrators Alison Steadman and Daisy Edgar-Jones alternate chapters between the two perspectives. Steadman may be familiar to listeners as Mrs. Bennet from the BBC’s 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, and she brings the same level of sass to her role as Eileen. Edgar-Jones recently won over viewers in her starring role in “Normal People,” and she does a great job adding dimension to Leena.