A Good American by Alex George

Title: A Good American
Author: Alex George
Narrator: Gibson Frazier
Series: N/A
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Release Date: 2/7/2012
Length: 11 hours, 27 minutes
Format: Unabridged Audio CDs
Genres: Fiction, Historical, Literary
Challenges: 2012 Audiobook Challenge
Source: Publisher (thank you!)
Purchase: Audio CD | Digital Audiobook
Rating: ★★★★★

It is 1904. When Frederick and Jette must flee her disapproving mother, where better to go than America, the land of the new? Originally set to board a boat to New York, at the last minute, they take one destined for New Orleans instead (“”What’s the difference? They’re both new””), and later find themselves, more by chance than by design, in the small town of Beatrice, Missouri. Not speaking a word of English, they embark on their new life together.

Beatrice is populated with unforgettable characters: a jazz trumpeter from the Big Easy who cooks a mean gumbo, a teenage boy trapped in the body of a giant, a pretty schoolteacher who helps the young men in town learn about a lot more than just music, a minister who believes he has witnessed the Second Coming of Christ, and a malevolent, bicycle-riding dwarf.

“A Good American” is narrated by Frederick and Jette’s grandson, James, who, in telling his ancestors’ story, comes to realize he doesn’t know his own story at all. From bare-knuckle prizefighting and Prohibition to sweet barbershop harmonies, the Kennedy assassination, and beyond, James’s family is caught up in the sweep of history. Each new generation discovers afresh what it means to be an American. And, in the process, Frederick and Jette’s progeny sometimes discover more about themselves than they had bargained for.

When I began this book, I knew I was going to like it, maybe even love it. There was just something about the way everything was presented. I loved the narrator’s voice, by which I mean the character’s voice within the book. I did also enjoy the actual audiobook narrator. I do think the cover is slightly misleading. It left me with the assumption that there would be a lot of jazz involved in the story, and there really wasn’t. It’s very pretty though.

On the surface, this book chronicles three generations of the Meisenheimer family from Friederich and Jetta’s immigration to the U.S. to the trials of their grandchild, James, as he tries to find his place among his family, his town, and in the world. While there are some pretty improbable occurances in the book, I never really questioned it. I just laughed at the ridiculous and kept listening. I found James’s dry humor about the shenanigans his family seemed to find themselves in a good addition to the story. Had the events been told in a different voice or perspective, I’m not sure they would have had the same effect. I did have a moment toward the end where I felt a little unsure of how I felt about everything after a particularly jarring twist in the plot. It took me a few days of thinking to decide that I really did like this book.

I think some of the characters felt a little mysterious. I think it’s mostly because James is telling the story and his personality is more introspective than anything. For instance, he doesn’t dig into the personalities of his younger brothers very much. They felt more like surface characters. And his older brother was just a mystery to me. I found this interesting mostly because it seemed like there was so much insight into what his granparents and parents were thinking. It felt a little inconsistent. That said, his grandparents and parents, and James himself seemed to be very well-developed.

I thought Alex George’s writing style was perfect. It really fit the story and James’s personality. It just felt like James was writing the story (which is kind of important in this book), rather than someone writing it for him. I think that feeling also speaks to the depth of his character.

Gibson Frazier did a spectacular job narrating this audiobook. He read with pefect sincerety and his voice became the voice of James’s voice. That’s something I love in audiobooks. It’s what I hope for every time I begin a new one. He didn’t really change up character voices, but I don’t think that would have been appropriate for this story since it was told from James’s point of view. He delivered with perfect, natural flow, while still enunciating. The only teensy, little thing that bothered me was the way he pronounced culinary. Like cyulinary. Have I been pronouncing that wrong my whole life? Or is it just one of those words that people say differently in different places, like pecan or something.

I think this book is definitely worth picking up. I can understand why it’s on the Indie Next List. I don’t think it particulary appeals to a certain group or anything though. I would say, if the synopsis sounds interesting to you or this review draws you to it, pick it up.

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    Some of the books reviewed on this blog were sent to me by the author or publisher for review. I did not receive any payment in exchange for the review nor was I obligated to write a positive one. All opinions expressed here are entirely my own and may not necessarily agree with those of the author, the book's publisher and publicist or the readers of these reviews. This disclosure is in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255, Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.
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