Amazing Story, Amazing Voice
This book is amazing. From the opening chapter, which introduces the haunting image of the dozens of blank journals the author's mother left to her after her death, to the final chapter as Williams finally comes to terms with this act, the book is a tour de force which leaves the listener breathless. Williams delves into her life with a kind of courage few people possess. From her family's proud Mormon pioneer history, to her own bird watching childhood, from the early days of her marriage to her later years as an environmental activist, Williams reveals powerful scenes from her life, seamlessly laced with her own musings, which all add up to a portrait of a remarkable woman.
Though the book is intensely personal, it is not a memoir; the title, Fifty-four Variations on Voice, is very appropriate. What binds its fifty-four chapters together is the issue of voice: What does it mean to have a voice? What does it mean to lack a voice? How does someone find their voice? How do women find their voice? How does one speak for the people or places or things which cannot speak for themselves? Every anecdote, every fact, every philosophical reflection eventually relates back to these problems. With her mother's blank journals as a focal point, Williams dives into this issue of voice with an openness and passion.
Given this emphasis on voice, it is highly appropriate that this book become an audiobook. The considerations of voice become all the more meaningful when one hears them read in the author's own voice.
What's more, Williams's voice as she reads is positively mesmerizing. Commanding yet soft-spoken, at times she sounds like Scheherazade, spinning a forbidden tale; other times she is the voice of a wise elder sharing deep secrets; at some moments she even takes on the role of an activist raising a call to arms. Yet throughout the book she maintains a tranquility, a thoughtfulness, that invites the reader to join her in the private meditations of her soul. Her calm, measured voice makes it seem as though she is weighing each word again before she speaks it aloud, and this gives each word a weight and a magical quality that makes the whole book come alive. In this way, her rendition becomes a towering example of what can happen when a person sets out to find a voice, and the audiobook becomes evidence of the success of her own quest.
As Williams says in Chapter 9 about her experiences in speech therapy as a child, "My task was to honor the power of each word by delivering it as beautifully as I could." Listeners to this audiobook will find she has more than succeeded.