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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Letters and Narrative

I'm excited for my first guest blogger, Brandon Burnham.

There is something exciting about getting letters. It’s special because it’s rare these days. But more than that, it’s knowing that someone took the time to write something by hand. A letter is an investment—the time it takes to write it, the stamp it takes to be sent and the time it takes to make the journey. A letter shows dedication.

I write letters. It makes me eccentric in the way that wrapping packages with brown paper and twine makes me eccentric. But I am all right with that. I know that the letters I write are appreciated. More than that there is something magical about letter writing.

So when a friend lent me a book called The Wednesday Letters I was intrigued and excited. I glanced briefly at the inside flap of the dust cover to find out that the story was built around a husband who wrote a letter to his wife every Wednesday. I didn’t actually finish the synopsis before jumping into the book and reading.

I liked the characters, the story and the setting. I got caught up in it and read it in no time. I put it down and sighed a breath of relief, happy for the people I had come to know and seen grow and change. But there was one thing that didn’t sit quite right with me.

The letters, interspersed randomly throughout the book, seemed contrived. They weren’t real to me. The letters tried to accomplish too much. The letters were used as a tool to push the story forward by shedding light on past events that were intentionally kept secret at the time. The effect was a letter than was very convenient for the reader of the story in which the letters were set. But in the original context the letter would have been redundant and tedious.

In real letters common information goes without saying because it is common. What gets shared is typically new to the recipient. Thoughts, impressions, reactions, frustrations. But not rehashing of events. Of course there are situations in which the writer would detail events. One book I read used letters to describe events, but a spy wrote the one-way correspondence to the man who had hired him, a relationship more formal than the intimate notes a lover would write.

All in all the book was enjoyable. I only wish that I wasn’t left with a feeling of skepticism about the letters that make the story worth reading.

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