February 2004

-bookslut

fiction

The True and Oustanding Adventures of the Hunt Sisters by Elisabeth Robinson

Dear Elisabeth,

Hey there! Read your book. Mad props to you! The epistolary fiction card hasn't been played in a while. We both know that John P. Marquand's The Late George Apley won the Pulitzer for this. And John Barth wrote Letters, where the author corresponded with the characters. But Candace Bushnell histrionics weren't what I had in mind. After all, you're a Hollywood insider. A bona-fide "independent producer and screenwriter," according to the inside sleeve. Yeah, I saw the films you produced in multiplexes. And the Internet Movie Database doesn't list any screenplays under your name. But no matter. I'm sure your scripts are in turnaround. We both know how cruel Hollywood can be -- you more than me.

Let's talk turkey. You've given the world something a little better than Bushnell's work. But did you have to explicitly reference Carrie Bradshaw? I mean, really, Liz (or is it Lis?), a woman obsessed with shoes? A Mr. Big-like character who your protagonist Olivia is sending letters to? A woman who can't pay her rent but has plenty of cash to book airfare? Factor in Olivia getting regularly bulldozed by the industry's sexism, something she doesn't really respond to (save for a mildly amusing incident involving a Rolls Royce), and I think you'll see why I had a few problems.

And throwing in a sister suffering from leukemia? Good move. I know your real-life sis died this way. Sorry to hear about this. I do recognize that you have to draw from personal experience when writing a first novel. Even so, where was the development? All I really know about Maddie is that she had beautiful hair that a few men went gaga over, and that there were some childhood episodes where Olivia and Maddie bonded. Sort of. But other than that, Maddie mostly spends her time in the hospital. I'm sure the sister you planned out on page had more going for her. Of course, the superficial perspective may be the point. But given Olivia's concern (sending Oscar screeners, flying out a wig designer), I figured you'd be a tad more revelatory about their relationship.

Some of your Hollywood details work well. I liked your attention to studio buildings and the wry comparisons to "colonial" Williamsburg. And the star photos replacing deer trophies was something I could get behind. That's the detail we expect from an insider. But you missed a great opportunity to satirize Robin Williams's obsession with Hollywood treacle. Instead, you made fun of his hair. That's not nearly as bad as the Don Quixote angle, the boiler-plate letters, or your tendency to repeat stale jokes. Granted, I sometimes have the attention span of a lemur denied his Ritalin, but even I could spot the constant references to Lloyd the Hamster.

Then there's the trawling sentences. "The way they jump up and down, they look like a bunch of little kids who have to go to the bathroom." could have been abbreviated, don't you think? Maybe? While I sing the body electric sometimes, phrases like "that loose flesh that oozes like pizza dough out of her bra-strap and underpants elastic" had me concerned about the copy editing team's sobriety. Plus, there's something criminal in introducing an interesting concept like "two working girls having a beer in their panty hose" and letting it slide.

I do recognize, Elisabeth, that turning gossipy letters into fiction is hard work. Particularly when you're writing from only one character's perspective. Humans write letters and express their opinions on how they lived or what they did. Or maybe they did once. Today, the mail routine involves thwarting creditors. Pulling off a novel based on letters might be a way of revealing human limitations, but it ain't easy turning it into a compelling read. Marquand did it because there were class distinctions underneath the surface. And it worked with Barth because he had the pomo angle. Even that Safran-Foer kid did it to some degree, but his book was shorter and funnier.

I was hoping for more, Liz. Really, you could have done better. But there's always the next seven figure publishing windmill. Or not. We'll see.

A bit disappointed,

Ed

The True and Outstanding Adventures of the Hunt Sisters by Elisabeth Robinson
Little, Brown
ISBN: 0316735027
327 Pages