Monday, July 6, 2015

Which Brings Me to You by Steve Almond & Julianna Baggott

fpo  They met at a wedding. His friend, her great aunt's brother-in-law's sister's daughter. There was flirty banter, a not-dead cat, and groping in the coat check room. Before the coatroom hookup was completed, they pulled back with the realization that there was potential there, potential worth not ruining with sex under strangers' coats in a closet whose door could be opened at any moment. He proposes that they get to know each other. They live in different cities so he suggests they write letters to one one another. No emails, snail mail only. The deal is they will confess to one another. She agrees but secretly thinks she'll never hear from him again. The she gets his first letter.

I didn't want to be rich. What I wanted was the sense of ease I imagined rich kids possessed, of being able to relax, not having to try so hard all the time. I wanted to be loved, of course, but more than that I wanted to be able to receive love.

The podcast Dear Sugar has been around for ages, first as an advice column and then as an advice podcast, but it only came across my radar relatively recently. I listen to a lot of podcasts. This show quickly rose to the top of the pile. Each episode is a little treasure for my ears and my heart. Rather than deleting an episode after listening as I do with most episodes of a podcast, I'm saving them so I can hear it all again. After listening to ten or so episodes I started to wonder about these advice givers who were so full of empathy and handled every letter with such care. I knew both were writers and so looked up what they had written. I knew about Cheryl Strayed's Wild and Tiny Beautiful Things, in fact that was how I found my way to Dear Sugar, but hadn't read anything by her partner on the podcast, Steve Almond. Of the books attributed to Almond Which Brings Me to You, a story told through a correspondence of the confessional sort, sounded the most intriguing. It did not disappoint.

I love this concept and its execution. It was raw and emotional. John and Jane share their first loves, family baggage, and personal failings, romantic and otherwise, through letters and the occasional postcard. It's a different kind of love story. We don't see much of John and Jane together with each other. Instead we get a snapshot of how they got to that moment in the coat check room.

There was a certain unreal quality to this novel. Seriously, who would confess their deepest secrets in writing to a stranger on the edge of one's social circle, and even if one did such thing, who could do so with such articulation and adroitness on a consistent and continual basis? Still, however improbable such a letter writing campaign might be the emotional impact was real. With letters about first loves with first boyfriends/girlfriends, lovers that changed the characters and their world, broken hearts, and people John and Jane should have been nicer to, who couldn't relate to this, at least some of it?

Definitely a good read.

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