Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Sicily Papers by Michelle Orange

I was perusing the website of the literary magazine Hobart when I came across this book that their small press arm published, and it strikes me as just the kind of thing that small presses are designed to do. It's a short, cleverly designed, epistolary travel narrative that made me feel like a good friend was letting me read her journal (btw, one of my friends actually did this--he was living in Burkina Faso and he mailed me his journal, which remains the coolest thing I ever received in the mail. I eventually gave it back to him, but I kind of wish I'd xeroxed it first). Anyway the book is packaged in a cover that looks like a passport and includes all the little drawings, cross outs and annotations that Orange must have written on her letters (I plan shortly to start signing off my letters with a little line drawing of myself just as she does--that is if I ever write a letter again). The letters are all to a mysterious "B" who is either a recent ex-boyfriend or a soon-to-be boyfriend--clearly they are in some in between state, but it is hard to tell if it is post- or pre-. And part of the fun of the book is that since it has no jacket copy, as a reader you have no context to place it in, so you have to puzzle together who these people are and what they mean to each other purely from the one-sided text. And Orange, who also writes for McSweeney's and the Huffington Post, is a great correspondent. The book works (supposedly these are real letters that she sent during a month long trip to Italy) because the letters are aimed at this guy in particular and so they reference conversations they've had, email he is apparently sending her during the time, writing that they've's a good lesson in how to create a character who is entirely off-stage. The mysterious "B" is not as clear as the fruit-loving, washing-machine-breaking, sometimes needy, sometimes independent author, but he's remarkably clear.

For those who enjoyed Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love (which is the well-written though maybe not terribly feminist memoir dominating the bestseller charts), this is an even better exploration of a woman traveling alone and sometimes thinking about love.

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