Featured review: Drunken Fireworks
Those of us who’ve read our work in public understand how difficult it is to keep an audience engaged for longer than about 15 or 20 minutes. Unless you’re a skilled performer (Tom Monteleone comes to mind among that group), the audience will get restless if you go on much longer than that.
Which is why the producers of audiobooks so often turn to actors as narrators. Or, as in the case of “Drunken Fireworks,” the new audiobook-only story from Stephen King, to someone like Tim Sample, who has produced the “Postcards from Maine” segment for CBS Sunday Morning. Other people in his category who come to mind are Garrison Keillor of The Prairie Home Companion or, a personal favorite, Stuart McLean from The Vinyl Cafe. These are raconteurs, people you don’t mind listening to for extended periods of time as they spin out their stories.
Sample, who King hand-selected to narrate this long story (running time, approximately 80 minutes on two CDs), is particularly appropriate here, since he has the requisite Maine accent for the first person narrative that comprises most of the story. It’s an accent many have attempted but few have mastered. (For a brief and classic example of Sample’s delivery, check out this standup routine in which he expounds on the difference between Maine natives, outsiders and transplants.)
In structure, “Drunken Fireworks” will probably remind readers of Dolores Claiborne. A lifelong bachelor named Alden McCausland is at the Castle County police station telling his version of events to Andy Clutterbuck (a name that will be familiar to many, as will places like Bridgton, TR-90 and Chester’s Mill) and Ardell Benoit. As with Dolores Claiborne, it takes Alden a while to get to the point. There’s a lot of background involved, and he’s going to make sure he has his say, even if some of the details he dredges up aren’t strictly relevant to the story. He’s leading up to the events of the previous evening, July 4, 2015, but everything started, he claims, in 2012.
Alden and his mother have, through luck and circumstance, become “idle rich,” which gives them plenty of leisure time, which they spend drinking (heavily) at their lakeside cabin. They spend most of the year there, retreating to their home in town only after Thanksgiving. Despite their relative affluence, their cabin, a glorified shack that they dub the “Mosquito Bowl,” is located on the shabbier west side of Lake Abenaki. The town side. The slums. The truly wealthy are on the east side, where the beaches have real sand instead of rocks.
Directly across from the Mosquito Bowl is the modestly named Twelve Pines Cabin, the stately vacation mansion of Paul Massimo and his enormous clan. Massimo is a man from Rhode Island who is CONNECTED (as Alden’s mother always says). He’s in the same class as Tony Soprano, to their way of thinking. Alden and his mother can’t imagine having a place that big and only using it three months out of the year.
The arms race that leads up to the events of the previous evening begins, innocently enough, with some firecrackers, twizzlers and cherry bombs. However, everything the McCauslands do, the Massimos can do better. It’s a classic case of one-upmanship, and neither side will be happy until they’ve won. The financial odds seem stacked against Alden, but he knows people who know people, and each year he invests larger sums of money and strays a little farther from what’s strictly legal into territory that could potentially put him on a terrorist watch list—to the benefit of the other people who assemble around the lake, the numbers swelling from year to year as they turn out to see what the Massimos and McCauslands come up with.
Being outdone by the Massimo’s fireworks is one thing, though. To add insult to injury, one of Massimo’s sons is the proud owner of a trumpet, and each triumph is accompanied by the kind of wah-wah-waaaah sound (some people dub it the “sad trombone”) associated with losing the big prize at the last minute. The rivalry might not have heated up the way it did if the McCauslands hadn’t felt so humiliated by the trombone taunt.
This is comedic storytelling at its best. “Drunken Fireworks” doesn’t really have a point (other than the benefits of being insured and the fact that explosives and alcohol are an unwise mix), but it builds toward an “explosive” climax as the fireworks become more exotic (with names like Pyro Monkey, Ghost of Fury and Rooster of Destiny) and the booze flows freely on both sides of the lake. Readers will wonder what happened to bring Alden, whose laconic delivery is dramatized to maximum effect by Sample, to the police station that morning. After the truth is revealed, King has yet another surprise up his sleeve. This isn’t a shaggy dog story like “L.T.’s Theory of Pets.” It’s one that could be enjoyed while sitting on the back porch, late in the evening as dusk descends, swatting black flies, drinking the beverage of choice, perhaps with the sounds of fireworks echoing in the distance (or the soundtrack to Close Encounters of the Third Kind) and the scent of gunpowder in the air.
The audiobook will be released on CD and for download on June 30th, but you’ll also be able to listen to the story on demand on select CBS radio stations on July 2nd. The story will appear in print in The Bazaar of Bad Dreams in November.