on 16 September 2007
This book caught my eye in an overseas airport. Looking, as always, for something absorbing to make a long, long trip more bearable, I thought "Which Brings Me To You" might turn off the tape recorder in my own head and free me from my own introspection. It certainly did that! Sydney to LAX to Detroit to Portland, I was an eager audience for Jane and John's "Dance of the Seven Veils."
These two thirty-somethings meet at a wedding and nearly have sex in the coat closet, then don't and decide to correspond instead. The premise may be unrealistic and the language overheated, but I never mind that in a book -- if you do, then choose something else to read. But if you ever went through that fervent dorm-room phase of trying to summarize yourself to someone who knows nothing of your history, you probably will wish you could have done it with as much wit, self-deprecation and inventiveness of language as Julianna Baggott and Steve Almond brought to this little piece. So seductive, the rhetorical substitution of part for whole, the desire to explain ourselves by explaining what we do and how we feel about it. Have you ever believed that if you could just find the right words, you could give your listener a perfect knowledge of yourself? (Can't happen!) And for that matter, have you ever thought that would be a good thing?
Jane and John are looking for acceptance, or possibly absolution, and they seem to find it in each other. Meanwhile the reader is entertained by passages of unexpected language. Jane writes, "I waited tables at Charles Village Pub and was under the mistaken impression that my life was a work of art... I don't think I have to state this but we weren't really artistes. We were PEZ dispensers with pink candy pop ideology." And a similarly self-aware passage from John: "It hadn't occurred to me, until just then, that Sunny might be interested in me. She was in this category of mother and suddenly she had slid into this seemingly-remote-but-actually-adjacent category of woman, sexual being, potential hoochie-coocher."
The reader might wonder at what point and through what agent did Jane and John have their epiphanies? Or you could just go with the flow and enjoy the imagery. Each letter offers a self-contained story and there is little sense of progression to the book, so once you understand the premise you can more or less pick it up anywhere. I recommend this book to any reader who loves an unusual turn of phrase and doesn't require a linear plot. Julianna and Steve, it must have been a fun book to write!