“This book is supposed to be uncomfortable,” writes A.S. King in a post-narrative reflection of Dig, her literary condemnation of the lengths people will go to protect a family name.
The Shoveler leads a transient lifestyle with his shoplifting mother. Loretta copes with her impoverished life and abusive family by imagining herself as a flea-circus ring mistress. CanIHelpYou is in love with her best friend and sells drugs from a drive-thru window. Malcolm is losing his father to cancer. Four teens with no apparent connections aside from the Freak, a preternatural young woman with a message to deliver. Also featured are Marla and Gottfried, a stern, older couple more concerned with appearances than the growing rot beneath the surface of their idyllic lives.
Elevating the prose into a multi-faceted performance are the voices of Mike Chamberlain, Tonya Cornelisse, and Kirby Heybourne. A.S. King lends her voice as well, supplementarily adding an omniscient narration that binds everything together into a cohesive, if not always coherent, whole. Tonal issues exist and the chapter introductions were somewhat jarring, yet Chamberlain, Cornelisse, and Hebourne deliver the primary characters convincingly, projecting enough variance in teenage angst, disinterest, and emotional upset to remain grounded amidst the novel’s surrealism.
The narrative point of view alternating between first and third-person resulted in a sensation of incongruity, but identifiable voices went a long way in repairing my connection to the story. Chamberlain projects enough energy to convey the Shoveler as a motivated, yet not overly enthusiastic, teen. Cornelisse depicts CanIHelpYou as a teen both believably genuine yet exceptionally disenchanted, especially in regard to her family’s inflated sense of superiority as well as their not-so-subtle racism. Malcolm is surprisingly reliable and likable, a point owing to Heyborne’s acting as much as the narrative itself. King’s dual treatment of the Freak and Loretta alluded that they were somehow outside the narrative, which they were, in a sense. It was King’s verbal rendering of her own writing, in fact, that acted as a panacea to my earlier irritation of the shifting point of view.
Setting myself to task in reviewing the audio production of A.S. King’s Dig, I first had to ask myself the question: what is Dig? It’s definitely fiction. It’s undeniably young adult. But what else? It’s an indictment of shameless, undisguised generationally transmitted racism. King cites instances of real-world inspiration for Dig, self-experienced elements of human ugliness she channeled into this book. I was, for lack of a more descriptive word, uncomfortable throughout the bulk of this book. Fortunately, the four narrators’ performances keep the listening experience buoyant and not irreparably traumatic. While not wholly perfect, the entire production still deserves praise, and the same can be said for King’s unashamed tale. Definitely a recommended read, but I’ll forever recommend it with the caveat that this book is unlikely to end with you, the reader, uplifted and happy.
“This book is supposed to be uncomfortable. I’d apologize, but I’m not sorry.”
Dig by A.S. King, read by Kirby Heyborne, Mike Chamberlain, Tonya Cornelisse, and A.S. King. 10 hours, 22 minutes. Listening Library, 2019
Andy Meyers is an aspiring Librarian toiling his way through the MLIS program at Wayne State University. Andy embraced audiobooks to make lengthy commutes more manageable, but has since fallen in love with this wonderful avenue to enjoying literature. An occasional thespian, Andy understands the power of a great performance and believes that an outstanding narrator can enhance just about any book.