The following review appeared 14 August 1999 on the Mark Twain Forum.
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Harrisburg Area Community College
Commissions are donated to the Mark Twain Project
Scheduled to appear in September 1999, this new Mark Twain artifact is likely to be on every Twainian's Christmas wish list. While not an indispensable addition to scholarly libraries, how can any lover of Twain resist adding this two-CD set to their collection? After the release of Hal Holbrook's long awaited Mark Twain Tonight video earlier this year, The Diaries of Adam and Eve is the most interesting media release of 1999--for entertainment purposes, that is (excluding CD-ROMs of more educational intent).
The best aspect of this set is the content itself, of course, which follows the text of Fair Oaks' own 1997 expanded edition with excerpts from the 1897 British edition of "Adam's Diary." Weaving all the relevant words Twain placed in the mouths of our mythological great-great-great-great-great-etc. grandparents, the reading time runs just over two hours and thus makes for an evening of enjoyable, well-put-together listening. (Disc 1 runs approximately 61 minutes, Disc 2 about 64. Disc 1 covers Eve's birth to the fall; Disc 2 contains the material after the eviction notice.)
It is important to point out that this is an audio reading and not a dramatic presentation. Despite the considerable talents of both Mandy Patinkin and Betty Buckley--Adam and Eve respectively--little attempt was made to have them "act" their parts. Instead, each reads their passages often with little inflection or nuance, which may strike some listeners as a dry approach. Warmth and enthusiasm are provided in the voice of Walter Cronkite, who reads a short introduction and the brief narrative segues, as well as an extended conclusion emphasizing the relationship between Sam and Livy Clemens. This conclusion is a real bonus to the package, including passages from letters between the Clemenses, the models for Twain's Edenic couple. The Cronkite passages both frame and provide context for the reading, adding insights into the drafting and publication history of the manuscripts.
Lester Seigel's occasional incidental music helps create mood and ambiance, and provides breaks in the long reading, but the actors themselves were clearly directed to let the text speak for itself. Of the two principal readers, Buckley seems to be enjoying herself in her aural portrayal. She is girlish, whimsical, and wry. To my ears--and this is no doubt only personal taste--Adam seems tired and wooden, reciting words of a character rather than from within the character. I concede this is an arguable point, and by no means should this opinion discourage anyone from deciding for themselves how they like Patinkin's interpretation.
With the advent of audiobooks now available on compact disc, new formats bring both new advantages and sometimes discouraging disadvantages. The primary advantage is durability, as CDs rarely have the fatal conflicts cassette tapes occasionally have with hungry players. In addition, CDs can be enjoyed on home or car stereos, and on most computers as well. But one inconvenience is that it is difficult, on most players, to return to where you left off unless you luckily stop reading at the end of a chapter. Otherwise, when you return to the book, the reader will have to reread possibly lengthy passages before catching up to the last point of reading. This also makes it difficult to find specific quotes or passages; if an instructor would like to record particular sections for classroom use, some patience is likely to be required.
For example, Disc 2 has six chapters, meaning each is approximately ten minutes long. Fortunately, each is indicated by musical interludes that can signal the reader running out of time. My personal equipment does not have a "pause" button, which makes incoming phone calls a major disruption. My DVD player did not like this disc--but then again, it has previously rejected Bob Seger and John Lennon bootleg CDs. So I cannot give an adequate judgement of the sound quality, as my computer player is blessed with low budget speakers that sounded fine in some sections, overdriven in others. I presume the fault is in my equipment, not the product itself.
Before this offering, the best dramatizations of the Adam and Eve characters appeared in the claymation Adventures of Mark Twain (1985), which featured a comic Adam and self-assured Eve in a pastiche of Twain works. David Birney also produced an excellent rendition with his then wife, Meredith Baxter-Birney, but this stage show is not readily available on video and does not include much of the material here. So this new production is not only a welcome addition to Twain media libraries; hopefully it is a harbinger of things to come.