Read 5/22/10 - 5/23/10
5 Stars - Highly Recommended
While attending the CityLit Festival in Baltimore last month, I sat in on Michael Kimball's 510 Readings. Back at home, I did a little research and discovered that he was an author himself (he is host and creator of the 510 Readings, but had not read at the event I attended). Of course I just HAD to contact him to inquire about his wonderful event and the books he has written. And Michael was kind enough to mail me out a review copy of "Dear Everybody", for which I thank him profusely!
Dear Everybody is a novel (to use the authors words from the Title page) "written in the form of letters, diary entries, encyclopedia entries, conversations with various people, notes sent home from teachers, newspaper articles, psychological evaluations, weather reports, a missing person flyer, a eulogy, a Last Will and Testament, and other fragments, which taken together tell the story of the short life of Jonathon Bender, Weatherman."
While a not entirely new concept, telling a story through the use of letters, author Michael Kimball breaks new ground by beginning with his character Bender's obituary, and leaving Bender's brother Robert to piece together the bits of the life he has left behind to try and understand why Jonathon killed himself.
We read excerpts of diary entries written by his mother Alice - starting at the time of his conception. We are shown clipped conversations that took place between Robert and their father after Jonathon's death. We read Jonathon's letters of apologies to nearly everyone he ever had any contact with - from neighbors, to elementary school bullies, to ex-girlfriends, to teachers, and employers.
Kimball shows us how Jonathon deals with a father that didn't want him and didn't know how to communicate with him, a mother who had high expectations for him and had a hard time accepting him for who he was, a brother who wrote him off and left him to his own devices.
Though the book is bleak by nature, the author skillfully creates pockets of humor to alleviate the overwhelmingly sad and painful look at this broken, unwanted, self conscious, and eventually depressed young man.
The more I read, the more I wanted to reach in and save Jonathon from his unhealthy life. The more I wanted to slap his mother for not doing something to change what she saw happening, to show how she became a part of the problem as she sat there ignoring it. The more I wanted to kill his father for the all the grief and headaches and pain he caused him. The more I wanted to curl up next to Jonathon to show him there was more to life than giving in to the madness of a dysfunctional family. I wanted to teach him how to fight and to be strong and to be his own person.
And the more it made me realize how everything I do, everything I say, affects those around me. And the more it made me want to be a better person - for myself, and for those I love and care most about.
Bravo Michael. A beautifully crafted collage of life, as told not only by the letters of the man who lived it, but also by everybody who had affected it.