Monday, January 11, 2010
Books by Theme: Epistolary Novels
Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey's A Woman of Independent Means chronicles the life of Bess Steed Garner from 1899 to 1968 through a series of correspondences. Letters to her family and friends reveal not only her spirit and strength but also her controlling and, at times, insensitive nature. Although born into social privilege, Bess faces much adversity, struggling with the untimely deaths of her husband and son, near business ruin, and a devastating house fire.
The famous real-life correspondence between New York writer and bibliophile Helene Hanff and the employees at British bookstore Marks and Company are compiled in 84 Charing Cross Road. What started as a request for an out-of-print book evolved into a 20-year friendship. In her saucy letters, Hanff playfully harangues the staff : "SLOTH: I could ROT over here before you'd send me anything to read."
Mark Dunn's fabulously inventive novel, Ella Minnow Pea, is set on the fictional island of Nollop. In this Orwellian-like society, the Island Council pays homage to Nelvin Nollop, the author of the famous sentence that uses all the letters of the alphabet—"The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog." When letters start to fall off the bust of Nelvin Nollop, the council takes it as a sign to ban those letters from speech and writing. As more letters disappear, they, too, are eliminated from daily life, as well as from the epistles that propel this novel's narrative.
Letters, faxes, and emails trace the funny—and moving—travails of Olivia Hunt in Elisabeth Robinson's The True and Outstanding Adventures of the Hunt Sisters. As a Hollywood producer, Olivia has suffered through her share of bad movies, but now her own life rivals the worst box office bomb. She has lost her job at Universal Pictures, is on the verge of being evicted, and has been dumped by her true love when she learns that her sister Maddie has leukemia.
Pulitzer Prize–winning author Carol Shields collaborates with playwright Blanche Howard in A Celibate Season. Jocelyn is a lawyer who accepts a temporary job in a different city, leaving behind her husband of 20 years to look after their teenaged children. Seeking to rekindle their romance, they decide to keep in touch through letters. The result is a thoughtful, probing exploration of relationships.