I am a sucker for an epistolary novel. I will read anything epistolary, even something so patently ridiculous as Clarissa. (Yes, I’ve read Clarissa. Yes, it was really silly. I have recently learned there was a BBC adaptation of it with Sean Bean and since I have for Sean Bean feelings that teeter on the boundary between man-crush and proper real crush, I will be checking that out from the library ASAP.) When Linda Holmes of NPR’s Monkeysee blog mentioned Which Brings Me to You on the Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast (the only podcast I listen to because it is delightful), all she had to say was it was epistolary and she’d like it, and I was on that like white on rice.
But, alas, I didn’t care for it. I liked that it was epistolary, but that was the only thing I really enjoyed. It is just not my type of book.
The premise is that these two characters, John and Jane, meet at a wedding, and they nearly have sex in the coat-check room, and instead they decide to write each other confessional letters. I’m not sure why this was a logical next step, but never mind, I was willing to go with it. The rest of the book is their letters as they chronicle for each other the major romantic liaisons they’ve had in their lives, and what effect each one had on them.
Why I read the end: I wanted to see if the meeting each other in person again for the first time scene was going to make me love the book. It didn’t.
You know how in movies sometimes, when one character is making his/her passionate declaration of love for the other character, s/he will say some things that show how well s/he knows the object of affection? And it’ll be like, Oh, you beautiful and unique snowflake! You splash in puddles in your rain boots! You refuse to eat anything without dumping a gallon of hot sauce on it! You squish puzzle pieces together when they don’t fit! I love everything about you! Be with me forever! And you, the viewer, haven’t necessarily seen any of these endearingly quirky traits, because the object of affection character has spent the whole movie stressing out about whatever the premise of the movie is. It all seems to imply a lot of off-screen joking and bonding between the two central characters, and it can feel a little cheap because you know it’s the writers trying to get you to believe that the characters’ love is oh so true and their love will thrive forever, even if they’ve only known each other for two weeks.
I felt that way about John and Jane, even though neither of them has one of those speeches. There’s no fun to their relationship (which I didn’t believe in anyway). The letters they write each other are — I don’t know, I found them terribly offputting. There was that modern-novel mix of coyness and oversharing that I find unbearable to read: I’m writing to you about penises! How delightfully upfront we both are! They had had all these experiences but their characters didn’t come across with consistency or clarity, and the impact their past love affairs had had on them was either nonexistent or way too obvious. I didn’t buy that they would fall for each other based on their letters because their letters didn’t convey who they were as people. It was one damn thing after another, and none of the down-to-earth everyday relationships and interactions that make characters people. (Like that they squish puzzle pieces and need a lot of hot sauce.)
Oh, plus, John and Jane? Really, those are their names? Real life can get away with that now and then. In a book, particularly a book like this, it’s too too precious to be believed.
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