THE WOMAN IN ME, by Britney Spears. Read by Michelle Williams, with an introduction by the author.
At the beginning of the audiobook version of her new memoir, “The Woman in Me,” Britney Spears grabs the mic for exactly 85 seconds. Her speaking role consists of the dedication (“For my boys, who are the loves of my life”), a 163-word prologue and an author’s note that doesn’t appear in print.
“This book has been a labor of love and all the emotions that come with it,” Spears says, in a voice that sounds like it belongs to the exhausted older sister of the teenager who belted “Oops! … I Did It Again.” She goes on, “Reliving everything that you are about to hear has been exciting, heart-wrenching and emotional, to say the least. For those reasons, I will only be reading a small part of my audiobook. I’m so grateful to the amazing Michelle Williams for reading the rest of it — and to you, for listening.”
This news might come as an unwelcome surprise. Spears is a singer, after all; her sound is her calling card! Plus we’ve been spoiled by overachievers like Bruce Springsteen and Bono, who not only recorded their books but beefed them up with music. There’s an intimacy to such listening experiences that we don’t necessarily expect from a hired narrator.
But Williams (the actor, not the Destiny’s Child singer) quickly establishes herself as a lively ventriloquist, picking up where Spears left off with nary a ripple in the Southern-twanged flow. She injects empathy into Spears’s tales of exploitation by interviewers, husbands, paparazzi and, worst of all, her own family. By varying the rhythms of Spears’s staccato sentences, Williams telegraphs mirth, regret, pride and fear — all emotions that can be hard to breathe life into from print. When Spears blesses Kevin Federline’s fame-obsessed heart, her proxy is clearly in on the double entendre.
By the time you reach the end of “The Woman in Me,” you understand why Spears wasn’t in the mood to revisit her darkest hours from the lonely womb of a recording booth. She’s already lost too much time living, as she puts it, like a “cornered Pac-Man being chased by ghosts.” We might wonder whether Spears is old enough to remember the heyday of Atari, but who are we to judge how — and where, and with whom — she spends her next chapter?
“There have been so many times when I was scared to speak up because I was afraid somebody would think I was crazy,” Spears writes. “But I’ve learned that lesson now, the hard way. You have to speak the thing that you’re feeling, even if it scares you. You have to tell your story. You have to raise your voice.”
THE WOMAN IN ME | By Britney Spears | Read by Michelle Williams with an introduction by the author | Simon & Schuster Audio | 5 hours, 31 minutes