Sunday, September 27, 2009

What I'm Reading Now-Ella Minnow Pea

Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel in Letters by Mark Dunn-Ella lives on the island nation of Nollop which was named after Nevin Nollop, the author of the sentence, The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. Nollop did something that nobody else has been able to accomplish-he wrote a sentence containing all 26 letters of the alphabet, and the entire sentence was only 35-letters long. Due to his unmatched genius, Nollop is worshiped as a literary genius, a guiding soul for this community who so admires the liberal arts.

A statue memorializing Nollop and his famous sentence was erected years ago in the town square. When the letter Z falls off of the statue, the High Island Council decides that this is a sign from the late Nollop; he, in his infinite wisdom, is telling the people of Nollop to change their ways, and since Nollop was the most intelligent man to ever exist, his word is not to be questioned. Neither, as it turns out, is the High Council's interpretation of Nollop's posthumous message. Any alternate interpretations will be considered heresy and will be cause for punishment. Mmm'kay?

So: Z is no longer an acceptable or necessary letter and is banned from all forms of communication. No one is to speak it, write it, or own anything that contains it. Ella, along with many of the other townsfolk, is not initially worried by this-it's just the letter Z, easy enough to do without-but her country cousin Tassie is able to see the more ominous far-reaching effects of such an order. Text books will likely have to be disposed of as will almost all library books-what are the odds that an entire book will be Z-free? Town records, family histories, all of these will be contraband if they contain the forbidden letter Z, and the punishments for such lawlessness are not slight...unless you consider death or permanent exile slight punishment.

As more and more letters fall from the statue, and the wide-reaching effects of the High Island Council's continual ban on letters continue to make life more and more difficult, we see a society crumble. Sounds a bit heavy, doesn't it? It's really not-it's so silly that you can't ever get too bogged down by the story itself; and although this wasn't my favorite book, I did have some fun with it. I think the author did a great job following the rules of the High Council. Consider the note that Ella sends regarding the unusual death of one of Nollop's citizens, written toward the end of the book, after the ban on B,C,D,F,J,K,Q,U,V,X,Y,and Z:

Please asept mie hartphelt simpathee at this time. [___] passt awae last night phrom let poisoning. She paintet her whole selph phrom het to toe with manee prettee, ornamental hews. She was so resplentent, almost ratiant in repose--the happee, appealing pigments an aesthetit reminter oph her lophlee warm spirit.

She shoot loog smashing 4 the phooneral.

Silliness aside, I do think the author did a good job of illustrating how easily Freedom (capital F) can be lost when little "unimportant" freedoms are given up without a fight. As the title indicates, this is an epistolary novel, and while it was a pretty easy read, the epistolary format didn't really ring true for me-too much exposition had to be done in letters, and the letter writing came across as a bit of a gimmick; I think maybe a few newspaper clippings might have been helpful in this particular tale. I'd like to say thanks to Thomas for his thoughts on epistolary novels; his words about dialogue in letters helped me to put together my thoughts on why I didn't care for the format of this novel.

Other reviews:

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know, and I'll add a link to your review.


Ana S. said...

I mooched this book recently and I'm planing to read it soon. It sounds like one I'll really enjoy, even if the letter format felt a bit off.

Rebecca Reid said...

I too didn't think it was completely sincere, written in letters. I also was bothered by the lack of character development. That said, I don't think either of those points made or broke the novel for me. I just found it a amusing way to look at how important Freedom really is, as you said.

Dreamybee said...

Nymeth-I hope you enjoy it. I think the worst part is just the first one or two letters. After that, everything flows a little better.

Rebecca-I agree with you about the character development; I didn't really feel like the voices changed much from letter to letter.