William Gillespie. Letter to Lamont. Spineless Books, 2005. 83 pp. Paper $10.00.
Apparently the year is 1993. Forming an epistolary, digressive novel is at the forefront of the ostensible author’s thoughts. Letter to Lamont is a logical descendant of the work of Laurence Sterne, whose Tristram Shandy was noted for propelling itself forward associatively rather than chronologically. Chronology, the underlying tool of narrative structure, is only one method of organization for fiction. Unfortunately, its “organization” is little more than a gang of thugs knocking off anyone else who threatens their turf. Notice how narratologists argue for one homogeneic fictive structure: Freytag’s Triangle, a nineteenth-century variant on the Aristotelean curve. Notice how non-narratologists argue for a heterogeneous, pluralist view of the novel: many approaches are valid. Or, to paraphrase Hassan I Sabbah, “Where nothing is true, everything is permissible.” Yes, even narrative fiction! It is perhaps the fault of our flawed educational system that we are not taught how to read nonnarrative fiction, but let us not blame the advanced writer for our own ignorance and bigotry. What Gillespie has written is a novel as thoroughly steeped in tradition as any narrative novel. The traditions he calls upon, though, are far more rare and more interesting than the narrative: the epistolary novel form, digression, multiple points-of-view, the novel-within-a-novel, the nouveau roman, improvisation, and linguistically propelled fiction based on homophonic and homographic connections between words and on the musicality, rhythm, and quantitative duration of sounds are traditional. The fact that these traditions are rarified is a strength. We should rejoice in each new nonnarrative novel with the energy we lose yawning through narrative novel number nine million. What is of particular interest in Letter to Lamont changes with each readingnotice how the point of view shifts from narrator to described object to secondary character to abstract concept (the section written from the point of view of the abstract notion of money is particularly refreshing); notice how the object of desire, the absent Lamont whose physical arrival is imminentwhy the narrator rushes to complete the letter: he wants to give it to Lamont when he opens the door to her (yes, Lamont is a woman)remains constant; notice how gender ambiguity plays throughout the novel. This is a novel by a writer who has clearly learned his chops well. [Eckhard Gerdes]