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Books Tue Nov 10 2015

Review: The Voiceover Artist by Chicago Writer Dave Reidy

Voiceover.jpgIf you love fiction and Chicago authors then you probably already know Dave Reidy. His first book, Captive Audience, is a collection of short stories with a Chicago take on music, comedy, sports, and family. His writing has humor and drama, and it explores human nature in a way that only a Chicagoan who has experienced and loved these topics only can. In his first novel, The Voiceover Artist, released by Curbside Splendor this week, he tackles similar ground: entertainment, family and relationships, and how they all intertwine.

Reading fiction, you have to suspend disbelief. Reading The Voiceover Artist it's a bit hard to imagine how main character Simon Davies, a man with a speech impediment who hadn't talked for years suddenly makes a name for himself in the tough world of voiceover work. But that's fiction's job, to create a reality where anything is possible. And Reidy does that here with the unique way in which he tells this story.

Reidy has created a large cast of characters. He gives them weight by telling each chapter from a different point of view at a different point in time. The narrative unfolds around the main character Simon Davies, a small-town Illinois boy who has aspirations of becoming a voiceover talent in Chicago. We see his journey from past to present not only through his eyes but through those of his younger brother Connor Davies, his mother and father, his talent agent, an ex-girlfriend, a churchgoing acquaintance, and his hero, the voiceover artist. The chapters skip around as much as young Simon did on the radio dial, searching between songs for the golden voices of the advertisements.

With such an extensive supporting cast, there are a lot of personal histories to keep track of. It might seem a distraction to read chunks of story that are not Simon's. We read about his agent's love life. We hear about the life of an interior designer Simon meets in church. These side narratives read almost as their own short stories. Riedy has mastered the short story form as seen in Captive Audience. Yet The Voiceover Artist is not a novel-in-stories. Reidy uses each chapter as a way to expand into Simon's world, making the character more dimensional and a bit more realistic. The technique works well, but there are times it feels there's a bit too much additional info.

Simon Davies is an odd protagonist. He wants to become a voice talent, but he's refrained from speaking for almost two decades. As a boy, he suffers from a speech impediment. This is the only thing he shares with his father, who sees Simon as the embodiment of his own failure. Simon also lives in the shadow of his brother Connor, who is much more outgoing. He escapes into the radio, bypassing music to focus on the commercial breaks. There is an art to the way that commercial announcers enunciation makes words like "financial" seem exotic and exciting. This is a peculiar hobby for a young boy, something his family supports with caution. Eventually the weight of shame prompts Simon into silence. It's a bit of a stretch to believe a boy can choose not to talk and continue living his life without consequence. We see Simon retain a job, attend school, and live with his father all while remaining silent. Eventually the drive to compete with his brother Connor and his dream of being on the radio pushes him to retrain his voice. He learns to live with his speech impediment by "waggling," a gesture of head shaking that helps clear his throat.

The underlying thread in the book follows Simon's relationship with his brother Connor. Simon wants to become equally as talented and successful, but needs to overcome his own past. Once you read through all the other character's side stories, the race to compete between the brothers becomes clear. Simon is a bit wiser than he lets on, always knowing his place in their relationship. We see how their paths cross and where they end. The journey Simon takes to make a life for himself isn't one that's too far fetched. Simon is definitely a model of overcoming weakness to achieve one's goals. He breaks free from what holds him back, his family, physical adversity and self-doubt, and gets on with life. There's a definite realism to that.

There is a book release party for The Voiceover Artist on Wednesday, Nov. 11 at 8pm at the Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, where Dave Riedy will be joined by Ryan Bartelmay, filmmaker Steve Delahoyde, and fellow Curbside Splendor author Cyn Vargas.

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