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King, Heche Lead the Way Through the Dark Woods

May 26, 1999|ROCHELLE O'GORMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In a different kind of a thriller for Stephen King, a 9-year-old girl is lost in the Maine woods, hoping that she can survive the threats of nature and whatever it is she believes is out there following her.

While readers may have been surprised at the brevity of his written book, listeners will find it the perfect length for a hike in the woods. If nothing else, "The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon" should keep most audiophiles from straying beyond well-marked paths. (Simon & Schuster; unabridged fiction; six cassettes; 6 hours and 30 minutes; $29.95; read by Anne Heche.)

Trisha McFarland is a sassy, imaginative girl with a crush on Red Sox pitcher Tom Gordon. She likes him because he is "a closer." Gordon goes into a game and ties up all the loose ends. The appeal is obvious, as Trisha's own life is full of fraying threads. Her father is in a suburb of Boston, where he stayed after the divorce. She lives in Maine with a belligerent brother and a mother too caught up in her teenage son's constant mini-dramas to notice Trisha's unhappiness.

When Mom drags her two children onto the Appalachian Trail for a daylong hike, she becomes so entangled in an argument with her son that neither notice when Trisha wanders from the trail. Trisha, who has answered nature's call, thinks she can take a shortcut back to the path. Bad idea.

Trisha keeps up a running monologue to remain somewhat grounded as her situation becomes more and more frightening. She yammers about everything from her colorful best friend, Pepsi Robichaud, to her feelings for her beloved, beery dad. And when her Walkman no longer brings her news of Red Sox games, she conjures up Tom Gordon as her personal spirit guide.

Different from much of King's work, this is mostly an impassioned stream of consciousness that is made all the more appealing by Heche, who skillfully expresses the terror and anger of this little girl lost. She engages us completely as she sings, screams and rambles. She sounds youthful; she sounds scared; she sounds convincing. She sounds like someone we want to hear again.

*

If you want whimsical humor and irony, turn to Julian Barnes' latest satirical audio, "England, England." (NewStar Media; abridged fiction; four cassettes; six hours; $25; read by Judy Geeson.)

The author's England is changed forever when a crass millionaire buys the Isle of Wight and builds a theme park on it. The theme? Why, Merry Olde England, of course. It is the idealized Disney version: clean, crime-free, and you can see everything in a weekend.

This is more than mere satire, however. It is a black comedy with teeth. Barnes leaves no one and nothing untouched--from demagogues to democracy, he skewers everything in his path. And the story only improves as it progresses, as Barnes takes the very idea of identity and turns it inside out. His imagery is skillful and his characters are relevant, so that the joke resonates with the humanity underneath it.

Narrator Geeson is one of those actors you either love or hate. She has a most interesting, malleable voice. Though British, she lacks that intrusive staginess of many British actors. However, Geeson vastly overdoes the voice of Sir Jack Pitman, the pit bull of a millionaire behind the theme park scheme. But this character began to grow on me, as he was easily recognizable and Geeson captures his arrogant nature. Her other voices are entertaining.

Rochelle O'Gorman reviews audio books every other week. Next week: Margo Kaufman on mystery books.

For more reviews, read Book Review

* This Sunday: The lives and the music of Maria Callas, Aaron Copland, Ludwig van Beethoven and Ray Charles. Plus the rock criticism of Robert Christgau.

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