I have just started and finished Mark Dunn's "Ella Minnow Pea" -- a fine way to end a vacation, to be sure.
I first ran across the hardcover version at the campus bookstore of my beautifully byucky alma mater. The cover wasn't much to squeal at, but I knew I was interested and added it to my Amazon wishlist.
Fastforward four years , bump over a couple states to the San Francisco public library's Friends of the Library sale (the most expensive library sale ion my experience) and a much more attractively covered paperback.
It was four bucks. Four bucks! For a paperback! At a Friends of the Library sale! Shameful.
Anyway, I bought it and today I read it and it was a fun, fun read. All you alphebetarians out there, listen up. Imagine setting this challenge for yourself: Writing a 208-page novel with an ever-shrinking number of letters.
Anyway, the novel is epistolary which means I will have to dredge up and post the thing on epistolary novels I wrote for the AML-list three or so years ago. Expect that Monday.
I have to think that I have been overly dismissive of epistolary novels, given the charm of "Ella Minnow Pea" and the fact that Master Fob and I just completed the first draft of an epistolary novel a couple weeks ago.
Anyway, if you look at the book and like it, read it. I'm not going to spoil it for you.
In unrelated news, Lady Steed cannot find anywhere on this godforsaken planet (referring, of course, to Luvmiluvmisaythetyuluvmi, the Swedish God of Sweaters) a white cardigan with the cut, fabric, length and sleeves required to meet her exacting specifications. Sweater collectors are encouraged to point me in the direction of obscure sweater sources. Their reward will be ... well, more than you can imagine!
I'm so glad you finally read LMNOP--it's pretty much one of my favorite books ever, even if by the end of my first reading it had me stalking around my house, randomly bellowing things like "Civil rights!" and "Where the crap is the UCLA???" and "Fascists! Fascists!!"ReplyDelete
Anyway, yeah. Great read. And if I see any great cardis, I'll let y'all know.
Im interested in his "Ibid" which is a novel told entirely in footnotes.
A friend of mine read it and loved it for the first half, then started to hate it and actually didn't even finish. So I don't know what to think about that.ReplyDelete
Has she read Ella's heroic tale?ReplyDelete
It's an incredible mess, but here's the letter I promised (if anyone cares) as taken from an online suppository of such stuff. Incidentally, blogging, much like participating in a list, is rather a drain on creative resourses, don't you find?ReplyDelete
Subject: [AML] AML List as Epistolary Novel
Date: 15 Mar 2003 18:29:57 -0700
I love when coincidences fall in my favor. I have been toying with this=20
idea of the list as an epistolary novel for some time. Then, I read a story=
in the Winter 2002 issue of Zoetrope: All Story that dealt with a similar=20
idea (the story, =93Literary Devices=94 by Richard Powers, is sadly not=20
available online). I had decided to start actually putting a few of these=
ideas together when Jongiorgi Enos suddenly appeared like Athena out of the=
head of Zeus, making a point of mine with much greater virility than just=20
saying =93I suppose that=85=94 could ever manage, and now, as I sit down to=
up on the list and write this essay, what do I see but R.W. Rasband=92s=20
complaint and our moderator=92s reply. If ever there was a time to consider=
the list as a progressive work of fiction, this is it.
Rasband referred =93the superstars of the list (like Eric Samuelsen).=94 I=
think those of us who follow the list could quickly make a list of such=20
But before we go further, I need to make two points: First, we need a=20
working definition of epistolary fiction, and second, I recognize that in=20
the world of online discourse, shorter is both sweeter and more widely read.=
I=92ll try to be brief.
First: What is epistolary fiction?
First and most obviously, it is stories told in letter form. It is not a=20
new form=97it dates back to Classical times; it reached its zenith a few=20
hundred years ago with Samuel Richardson=92s _Clarissa_ and _Pamela_,=
_Young Werther_ (brilliantly homaged in the above-mentioned Zoetrope story)=
and dozens of other novels from _Dangerous Liaisons_ to _Frankenstein_. =20
Sometimes a novel was entirely written in letters; other times it was in=20
part. No matter.
Some advantages of the epistolary form:
=93=85it presents an intimate view of the character=92s thoughts and=
without interference from the author=85.=94 (Merriam Webster=92s=
=93=85that delightful forbidden sensation of reading someone else=92s mail.=
(dust jacket to _Griffin and Sabine_, 1991)
Mentioning _Griffin and Sabine_ makes us realize that what was once a=20
dominant form of fiction in English and American letters has now nearly=20
disappeared. In fact (and I agree with this sentiment), =93=85twentieth-cen=
epistolary work strikes many readers as an oddity, literature encumbered=20
rather than enhanced by its structure.=94 (Bower, Anne. _Epistolary=20
Responses_. 1997. p 10)
But that=92s epistolary fiction and its current problem in book form. But=
appeal of reading other=92s letters, and that intimate dip into character=92=
minds have not lost their draw. If we agree with Jon Enos when he proposes=
=93All writing is fiction,=94 then a forum like the AML list fills our needs=
the type of intimate story telling epistolary fiction provides and, simply,=
*is* epistolary fiction. Fiction told in letter form.
Another advantage to epistolary fiction is that we discover the future=20
simultaneously with the letter-writers (and presumed authors). When they=20
write a letter, they do not know where the arc of the story is taking them. =
They do not know any better than the reader whether they will succeed or=20
fail. For all we or they know, they could die tomorrow and others=92=
will take up the narrative. Who can tell.
The AML list may have an overarching storyline, but we the reader can no=20
more tell where it is going than can the writers=97even the superstars=
tell if Richard Dutcher has a blockbuster with Oscar nominations coming up=
in 2005. We don=92t know. No one knows.
Before Samuel Richardson burst on the scene with _Pamela_, several books of=
letters had been published, whether fiction or no, it was hard to tell. =20
=93Obviously,=94 writes Natascha W=FCrzbach (_The Novel in Letters_, xiii),=
is no hard and fast line between a genuine letter, a fictitious letter, and=
an epistolary narrative. Sometimes it is impossible without external=20
evidence to decide whether a correspondence is genuine or fictitious.=94
That is=97how do you know I mean what I say? How can you tell if I am even a real person? Have you met me? How many of us can be sure=
that Jon Enos hadn=92t been around long before his introduction, but as The=
Laird Jim or Thom Duncan or Kim Madsen or Lloyd the Lurker? Unless you=92ve=
met him or everyone else, you can=92t. Again, the question of fiction is=20
moot=97whether the AML list is =93fiction=94 or =93nonfiction,=94 it is=
I want to take a step backwards to the idea of the fictional author of the=
letter, whose ideas are distinct from the author of the novel. In the case=
of the list, there is no =93author of the novel=94 per se, except perhaps=
But with or without a moderator, the true author of the list is you, dear=20
reader. The reader is the one who puts the plot together=97much more so=
in traditional narrative. The exciting thing about the list is that writing=
is action, and reading is creation. We don=92t have car chases and (I=
no serial killers eliminating those who won=92t watch R-rated movies. =20
(Although have you noticed the most firm all seem to have disappeared?) No,=
we have people weighing in on the topics and the reader decides what the=20
story is or should be, selects those parts pertinent, and the AML List as=20
Novel comes to life.
Some characters have a great, =93superstar=94 presence. Richard Dutcher is=
generally acknowledged as our resident genius. I imagine there are=20
dissenting voices, but they keep to themselves. Some such as Scott Parkin=
and Marlyn Brown write in with some regularity, but you get the sense that=
they are really only known to those who know them elsewhere, off the list.=
But isn=92t that how most of us, in turn, come to know them?
Consider Jon Enos:
A couple weeks ago he was a nonentity. Not like Orson Scott Card who is oft=
referenced and much reverenced even though he as yet to post so much as a=20
=93Hello, how =91bout that _Singles Ward_?=94 No, Mr Enos was genuinely=
of. Then he appeared, making his presence clear and known, and others who=
knew him (including superstar Eric Samuelsen) wished him welcome, commented=
on his comments and recognized his existence outside the list=92s=
and thus he was immediately part of the novel.
Other characters post and post and remain vaguely anonymous. Other=20
characters make one comment then disappear back into lurking.
But what is the story we are all engaged in telling? And will it have a=20
happy ending? I don=92t know. But if this is a novel, we are the=
We must ride on to the denouement.
ps: Sorry about failing on that whole "brief" thing.