Saturday, November 12, 2005

Ella Minnow Pea (Mark Dunn)

The subtitle of Ella Minnow Pea, "a progressively lipogrammatic epistolary fable," made me a little uneasy before I started reading. Epistolary I could handle--though a pleading note to all book publishers and book designers: We will understand that what we're reading is a letter without the use of funky fonts or italics (or in this case, both). Really. We'll figure it out, I promise!--but progressively lipogrammatic? What's that? Turns out it's a fancy way of saying some alphabet letters are going to fall (literally), causing a great ruckus on the fictional island and the government said island to ban the use of these fallen letters in speech and writing (therefore carrying over to the book's author, which, if you're interested in nothing else, makes it worth reading just to see how he'll handle it). This technique does not makes the book a good candidate for an audiobook (for those of you out there who prefer your books this way, you know who you are).

The first letter that falls is "z," which seems harmless enough, but then when more common letters start to fall things get a little dicey. When "d" goes, so does most of the past tense and all days of the week (though the council kindly makes such useful suggestions for substitutions such as "Toes" for Tuesday and "Satto-gatto" for Saturday). And once a vowel falls, I wondered how Dunn was possibly going to make it through the rest of the book. Near the end, which many letters gone, it gets a little hard to decipher some of the sentences, but the book is so delightful, it is completely worth it.

I'd keep the fable part of the subtitle in mind as well while reading this book. Most readers will need to shut off that cynical part of their brains or they'll constantly find themselves asking Why at times when it might be best to enjoy what the book does offer. It's a quick and simply fun read.

Other good books: It's hard to categorize this book or think of too many others like it. One that gave
me a similar "wow-I-can't-believe-this-author-is-doing-this" sort of feeling was A Wrestler's Cruel Study by Stephen Dobyns. This book also bends reality, but in a much more visual way.

Next book up: The Seven Sisters by Margaret Drabble. This one should prove interesting because it was a pick-off-the-shelf book without any background knowledge, so we'll see how it turns out.
[Note: Next book up features books I have just started to read, so no spoilers please!]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I loved Ella Minnow Pea, and I'm glad you enjoyed it.
The following book is completely unrelated, but I'll recommend it because I read EMP on a Saturday morning and this graphic novel on Sunday morning. (That was a great weekend.)
So, check out Blankets: an illustrated novel by Craig Thompson. It's a bit of a coming-of-age story, touching on family, religion, temptation, shame, responsibility, etc.