Friday, September 6, 2013

Letters from Skye - Jessica Brockmole

When I was in college and had to read Samuel Richardson's Pamela: Or Virtue Rewarded, it put me off epistolary novels for 30 years, at least. For those lucky enough not to have ever heard of it, Pamela was the Fifty Shades of Gray of its time, a runaway bestseller that chronicled the gradual consensual descent into moral degradation of its narrator, although at the time I read it I remember thinking, "Oh, c'mon, Pamela, get on with it." Some critics hail it as the first truly contemporary English novel. Most of the rest of us consider it one of the worst.

It wasn't until many, many years later that I elected to read another epistolary novel, but this time I got much luckier and discovered a gem that has remained on my Favorite Novels Ever list:  Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger. Please read this if you haven't. 

I chose Letters from Skye to read for two reasons. First, I'd been on a steady diet of "dark" novels, which are impossible to recommend to some of my kinder, gentler customers who persist in showing up wanting to buy books, lord love 'em.  Second, I have to get off the death and mayhem fiction bus from time to time and read something in which people don't wind up in pieces. 

Jessica Brockmole's Letters from Skye is the story of the relationship in letters that begins just before America's entry into World War I when David Graham, a brash young American, sends a fan letter to reclusive Scottish poet Elspeth Dunn. One piece of their correspondence is discovered by Elspeth's daughter Margaret in the early years of World War II, a discovery that causes Elspeth to disappear from her home. The single letter Margaret holds is the only clue she has to where her mother might be. Her search is limned out in the letters she and the Royal Air Force pilot she loves send to each other. 

Letters from Skye doesn't break any new ground. It's spare, and sentimental, and predictable at nearly every turn. It was also quite, quite lovely, and I am, once again, the darling of the kinder-gentler crowd. 

Surly's Bottom Line: When one has a craving for a Krispy Kreme doughnut, one doesn't stop to analyze nutritional data, one just heads for the nearest location, praying for the flashing light that indicates a fresh batch of them is still warm from the oven. A steady diet of them would be dreadful, but a well-timed indulgence is a transcendent experience. Letters from Skye was a well-timed indulgence of the literary variety. Treat yourself. 

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