Monday, December 10, 2012

Found epistle

I decided this weekend to abandon the last novel I started, which I knew sucked from the first few pages, but which I read half of because I was on a plane. Since I'll be boarding a plane again within 10 days, I wanted something slim and paperback. I pulled The End of the Affair off the shelf, and flipping it open found a folded piece of paper, covered in handwriting, tucked inside. I opened it and found that it was a letter, and to avoid any breaches of privacy I quickly glanced at the signature to see if it was a private note to John. It was signed "Your daughter, [first name redacted]" -- and because John is not a father I knew it was not addressed to him. The vast majority of our books are bought used, so I assumed it was a found object, a relic from a stranger's past and safe to read. It was a touching letter, clearly written by a young woman expressing gratitude and indebtedness to her parents for supporting her (financially and otherwise) through a move to New York. As I read I formed a mental image of this lovely stranger. Then I came to a line toward the end that said "I suppose I've inherited a bit of the [last name redacted] difficulty with expressing emotion verbally." Putting the first name and last name together I realized I knew the person. The book must have come to us via a friend rather than a bookstore. It was a strange experience, a sort of slow-motion triple-take where I felt myself on the verge of violating someone's privacy, then safely at a distance, then suddenly and unexpectedly granted personal knowledge of the emotional life of someone I don't know very well. But of all the unsanctioned glimpses you could get into someone's past and personality, it was a rather flattering one. I don't suppose her parents ever saw the letter, unless it was a first draft that she later transferred to type or fancier stationery. Odd to think that I would get to read it instead of them.

10 comments:

  1. I'll resist the urge to ask who the person was, and instead will ask: what was the novel you abandoned?

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    1. It was a "literary thriller" called A Good and Happy Child. Interesting premise; terrible, terrible dialogue and lots of it. It reminded me of Special Topics in Calamity Physics, which was bad in a similar though more complicated way, and ha ha, the first review on Goodreads goes: "This is the first book I ever returned to the bookstore on account of overwhelming suckiness. Usually with an especially crappy book--Labyrinth, Special Topics in Calamity Physics, and The Librarian are some recent examples--I'll just scribble a curse on the title page and leave the book next to a trashcan on the street. But this book is so aggressively bad that it wasn’t enough to simply discard it--no, I wanted my money back."

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    2. P.S. It wasn't even a tiny bit scary. Does anyone have recommendations for books that are actually scary? I think it's so much easier for a film to be scary than a book. I can't remember being scared by a book since my age reached the double digits.

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  2. Perhaps it was the letter, not the book, you were meant to read. Why, do you suppose? In the cosmic, universal sense...why?

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    1. I don't know! Maybe it means I'm supposed to call my parents and thank them for ________________

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  3. The story of the letter in the book, and how it unfolded, sounds like the beginning of a plot for a novel or a movie. (In particular, though not exclusively, a Woody Allen movie.)

    Not sure if I've really ever read anything, at least not a whole novel, that I felt was really scary, in the sense I think you're talking about (a "horror" novel or whatever you want to call it). Here and there some scary stories (i.e. short stories) though nothing in particular comes to mind offhand.

    You mentioned the book The End of the Affair -- I'm thinking you're talking about the Graham Greene novel? Graham Greene is one of my favorite writers -- a couple of his that I especially like are The Quiet American and Our Man in Havana.

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    1. Yes, Graham Greene -- I only read the first sentence because I got distracted by the letter!

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  4. Travels with my Aunt is good, so is Getting to know the General, though my favorite is probably Loser Takes All. I've read Journey without Maps twice, even though I didn't really like it either time. Anyway, I once picked up a $10 bill out of a copy of Heidegger. Also inside was a New Yorker style cartoon which read: "Harold's gloominess really started to pay off once the inflation hit." I'm pretty sure the bill and the cartoon had been sitting there for at least ten years, waiting for me to show up.

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    1. Too bad a $10 doesn't gather interest while sitting in a book.

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