Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Ella Minnow Pea

It wasn't until I told someone, out loud, what I was reading that I realized the title, Ella Minnow Pea, really sounded like the "LMNOP" of the alphabet song. Now, of course, I have no idea how I missed it. Ella Minnow Pea. LMNOP. Obvious. So obvious I wonder what else I missed. Such a clever title. Such a clever book.

Ella Minnow Pea resides on the fictional island of Nallop, off the South Carolina shore, where all the residents are brought up in reverence of syntax and language. The founder and most celebrated resident, Nevin Nollop, was the author of the well known keyboard practice sentence, "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog." When the letter tiles creating this celebrated sentence beneath his statue begin to fall off, the self-righteous and clearly brainless members of the governing council take it as a sign that Nollop, himself, wants the usage of these letters to terminate. As a result, they ban all future use of the fallen letters. First "z" gets the ax, followed by "q" and "k". The residents of the island face severe and, frankly, far fetched punishment if the banned letters are used in writing, speech or music.

As the book is written through letters between friends and family members within the community, the reader witnesses first hand the difficulties in communicating without all of our precious 26 letters. Yes, we need our "z" and our "k"s, uncommon as they may seem. Life without the letter "d" is no life at all. End scene.

In spite of all of the author's cleverness, which is bountiful, I found this novel lacking. The author, Mark Dunn, brilliantly uses the English language in its most advanced form. While I'm sure I'm exaggerating, (but since this entire book is a satire, I feel it's appropriate here) I think at least 10% of the words throughout the book were words I had never seen nor heard before. Dunn either has an intimate knowledge of English vocabulary or an extremely thick thesaurus at his disposal. For language lovers, I've no doubt this book would be a delight.

For story, character, plot and reality lovers, however, the story isn't quite as accomplished. The author's not very subtle dig at organized religion as a vehicle for the blindly obedient to carry out the wishes of non-existent tyrannical beings got on my nerves. Likewise, the characters were so poorly developed that I was never quite sure who the letters were being written by or to whom they were being sent. As their relationships with each other was never the point of the book, however, I let it slide.

Ultimately, this is a show-off book about language but not one that really entertains or matters, because the story isn't funny, romantic, endearing, sad or slightly plausible. Just very, very clever.

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