Away from it all

In my travels this summer, I’ve seen a lot of people reading on Kindles and other e-readers. I haven’t tried that approach yet. But I do find that I’ve been “reading” about as many books by listening to them on CD when I drive as I do by sitting down and paging through the printed product. Since I’m going to be teaching a class two days a week at a university that’s about a two-hour drive from my home, I expect my fondness for audio books to continue. Fortunately, there are plenty of worthwhile offerings available.

By Linda Brinson

ESCAPE. By Barbara Delinsky. Random House Audio. 10 CDS. 13 hours $45. Also available in hardback from Doubleday. 308 pages. $25.95.

Do you ever get tired of checking your e-mail, responding to text messages, checking your watch and worrying about all the demands on your time and emotions? Do you weary of feeling that your smart phone is so smart it runs your life?

For Emily Aulenbach, the constant dings and buzzes have become a symbol of how crazily busy and yet how empty her life is. On the surface, Emily, 32, might appear to have it all. She and her husband, James, are both lawyers with promising futures in big New York law firms. They have a nice apartment in Manhattan and good incomes. Sure, the hours are long and the work sometimes less than rewarding, but if they try hard and are patient, their future should be bright.

Emily, though, has begun to fear that the future will only be more of the present, with career demands so great that she had James will never have time for the life they envisioned for themselves when they fell in love. She has begun to sense that the ladder toward the ideal life of the future becomes the life itself. She worries that once you’re on that ladder, you just have to keep clinging and trying to climb.

It doesn’t help that she and James have been unsuccessful in their attempts to start a family – or that she really doesn’t see how they could have much of a family life if they did have a baby.

Many days, Emily feels that she has no real personal connection with anyone, not even her sister, who just makes more demands, or her so-called friends in Manhattan, whom she doesn’t really know. And, though while in law school she envisioned herself as the champion of the underdog, her job has her trying to discourage claims against a company that sold tainted bottled water. Day in and day out, she sits in a cubicle amid other cubicles, explaining to distraught people on the phone why they don’t qualify for much if any compensation.

One particularly bad day, Emily walks out of her cubicle and out of her life. She packs a few things, takes some cash and the car that really belongs to James, and starts driving. She ignores her BlackBerry and her watch.

After some aimless wandering, Emily finds herself drawn to a small New Hampshire town where her best friend from college lives, a town where she spent one summer that proved to be pivotal in her life. Without really understanding her motivations, Emily heads back to the place where she made decisions that led her to the life she now finds unbearable.

The peaceful setting has its own emotional strains, but with the help of her rediscovered friend, Emily slowly begins to figure out what’s important to her. She begins to see how to take more control of her own life, even while learning more about how to connect with others. She sorts out what she wants to escape from, and what she values.

Some of this plot may sound familiar. Barbara Delinsky is not the first contemporary novelist to play with the idea of walking away from a hectic, meaningless life.

She presents Emily and those around her convincingly, however, so that the reader really cares about how things work out. And just when you think something utterly predictable is going to happen, Delinsky will surprise you.

This novel should appeal to women who worry that in trying so hard to have it all, they risk having nothing.

Cassandra Campbell does a fine job with the reading. My only quibble was that sometimes she seemed to be reading a little fast – maybe my Southern drawl applies to hearing as well as speaking. But then, I thought, maybe the hurried pace is intentional, emphasizing the pressures that Emily feels.

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