Thursday, April 23, 2009

Some letters concerning Michael Kimball and Dear Everybody

Dear Everybody Reading this Blog,

I was so moved and inspired by Michael Kimball's novel Dear Everybody that I don't want to write the regular, judicious review I planned when I was first asked to take part in the book tour for its paperback edition, but would rather use the novel's more urgent approach and write you a letter.

I must say how surprised I am in retrospect that I didn’t already know about this striking, witty, and above all moving book. In case you don’t know about it either, I should tell you that it’s composed chiefly of suicide letters by Jonathon Bender: apologies, thanks, questions and explanations addressed to more or less everyone he had ever known and other things besides like The Easter Bunny and the state of Michigan, collected and arranged after his death by his younger brother Robert who never really knew him. The letters are interspersed with other documents found among Jonathon’s papers – newspaper cuttings, a yearbook extract, a psychologist's report etc – along with extracts from their mother’s diaries and Jonathon’s ex-wife’s funeral eulogy, and records of conversations between Robert and others as Robert began to piece together his dead brother’s life. Revealed in the process, mainly between the lines and thus with great delicacy and wit, yet very movingly, is a complex and misunderstood personality, a childhood of abuse and a subsequent life of mental disturbance. Least explicit yet most heart-rending are the letters referring to incidents in Robert’s very early life, and which take the (remembered) speech patterns and unknowing psychology of the child he was then:
Dear Mom and Dad,
Here’s the reason that I pulled the stitching out of my feather pillow and then pulled all of the feathers out of it too: I thought that I was going to find a bird.
What’s heart-rending is the implicit reason for the writing of this letter, the narrative between the lines: the fact that Jonathon would have got into trouble for this action, or even, as we come to realize, would have been beaten.

And the archival form of this novel is not just the vehicle for a story but is dynamic, for it is through arranging the letters and documents that Robert comes to reverse his formerly negative view of his brother, while at the same time the contrast between Jonathon’s version of things and the doubts that Robert still has about some of it challenges the notion of the reliability of either character and indeed all narrators. And here’s the most impressive thing to me – perhaps because it’s one of my own obsessions as a writer, but then I think it should impress everyone: what Michael Kimball has done is to portray formally the fragmentation of a life (yet in a holistic and wholly satisfying way) – something which the form of a traditional novel would belie.

But what I really want to say is just: Wow.

And to tell you that I cried. And smiled. And groaned, especially at the father’s speeches in the extracts from his conversations with Robert, when I also went physically cold all over.

Dear Michael Kimball,
There are things I am wondering about you that I know you can’t answer. Like, where did you get such a brilliant idea? (And have you guessed, I am jealous?) I know you have explained at other stops on the tour how you started with just one letter, that the whole thing just grew organically around it, that you didn’t know yourself where you were going, that you never plot your novels beforehand. But how come something so brilliant emerged? Let me put it another way: what makes you so f***ing innately, intuitively talented? And would it embarrass you if I said that the fact that your photo shows you have nice kind eyes is absolutely no surprise whatever when your novel displays such powers of insight and empathy?

Dear Alma Books,
Thank you so much for publishing Dear Everybody and making our literary culture that much richer.

Dear Publishing Industry in General,
Why don’t you publish more books like this – innovative, clever, attentive to language and to subtle and serious matters of the human condition, yet utterly accessible and engrossing? I read on an earlier stop of this blog tour that Michael Kimball’s first novel was rejected something like 119 times before it was accepted, and you probably know, don’t you, that when this happens to a writer of such important books as Dear Everybody, this represents a cultural disgrace?

Dear Everybody Reading this Blog,
Do visit the other stops on this great book tour, where Michael Kimball talks about his book and his writing in general (links at the bottom of this post).
Do also visit his website, and find out about his exciting life-on-a-postcard collaborative art project.
Below you will find a video trailer for the book, which Michael Kimball, I understand, had a hand in making.
Above all, I urge you to read this book. Order it now!

The other blog tour stops (all in April) completed so far:

Mon 13th Me & My Big Mouth
Weds 15th Dogmatika
Fri 17th The View From Here
Sat 18th 3AM
Sun 19th Lizzy’s Literary Life
Mon 20th Digital Fiction
Tue 21st Planting Words

and to come:

Sat 25th Writing Neuroses
26th Sun Just William's Luck


Unknown said...

Dear Elizabeth,
Great idea! If I hadn't already been on the tour I'd have been persuaded from this...

Elizabeth Baines said...

Yes I know you loved it too, Fiona!

Unknown said...

Wow - that's a hearfelt endorsement. If you say it's that good, it must be ... off to look and see where I can get it!

Elizabeth Baines said...

Great, Barbara!

Nik Perring said...

Dear Elizabeth,

I loved this.

And I have ordered the book.


Elizabeth Baines said...

Dear Nik,