Love Letters To The Dead was nearly my first DNF of the year. At around 15% the plot and characters were feeling like nails down a blackboard and I was ready to delete it from my Kindle, but I carried on with it for a little bit and the plot picked up a bit and I stuck it out to the end.
Love Letters To The Dead is an epistolary novel. I don’t think I read the book description properly when I bought it, because I didn’t realise that it would be written entirely in letters - I assumed there would probably be normal prose interspersed throughout. When I realised it was going to be completely letters, I thought, ‘Okay, fair enough. Something a bit different.’ But by halfway through, I was thoroughly tired of this format. It led to a very polarised point of view and I felt like I was watching scenes from a distance or through a window or something, which in turn made me not care very much about what was happening.
The letters are written by Laurel, a fifteen year old girl who is grieving for her sister who died earlier that year. Laurel has just started high school in a new area - a deliberate plan on her part so that she won’t be reminded of her sister at every turn. As she writes her letters to dead celebrities, she gradually starts to make friends and come to terms with her sister’s death and the fragmentation of her family.
As I said, the letter format wasn’t for me, but to cap it off Laurel does this really weird thing, where in her letters to Kurt Cobain or Amy Winehouse or whoever, she tells them their own autobiographical details. This is when Laurel is writing to Judy Garland about her (Judy’s) father:
He died when you were only thirteen, just after you were signed by MGM.
Um, I think Judy Garland was probably aware of that without you needing to tell her, actually.
This is to Amy Winehouse:
Your parents divorced when you were nine.
Laurel does this a lot in her letters. In one letter to River Phoenix, she goes on for four Kindle pages about his early life. I get that the author telling the reader about these people, but it’s incredibly jarring and pulled me right out of the story.
Ava Dellaira has written some very flawed characters. She’s obviously a skilled writer and she certainly didn’t take the path of least resistance and write easy, likeable characters! Some of my favourite characters in literature have been the twisted, spiky ones, but I just didn’t manage to connect with the characters in this book. Laurel’s mum is incredibly selfish - after May’s death, she cleared off to live on a ranch in California, leaving Laurel to the care of her grief-stricken father and aunt. Of her friends, I found Tristan patronising (Buttercup), Kristen pretentious (‘I’m just one of those regular weirdos.’) and Hannah mean. I felt sorry for Natalie, who seemed a very sweet girl and heartbroken over undeserving Hannah’s fickleness, and Sky was lovely, too, but that was about it.
And Laurel’s sister! I spent a lot of time trying to work out whether May had mental health issues that made her behave the way she did, but nothing concrete was ever alluded to. I came to the conclusion that she was just as dumb as paint. Because, seriously? What kind of an idiot takes her thirteen year old sister out to the movies and then clears off with her boyfriend, leaving her sister with a twenty-four year old man for the whole evening?
Another problem I had was that most of the people Laurel wrote to were people who I didn’t particularly admire in real life. Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Judy Garland, e e cummings, River Phoenix - I don’t enjoy their work and I think their private lives were pretty tragic. And don’t get me started on Amy Winehouse.
This is kind of a key point, I think. It really hampered my enjoyment of the book, but I can see it being a key selling point for other people and would really enhance their whole reading experience. I went to school with some Doors Bores and they would have absolutely loved this book, I reckon.
There were aspects of this book I liked. Like I said, Dellaira is obviously a skilled writer and some of her descriptions and scenes were spot on, like when Laurel starts school and is too shy to approach anyone at lunch.
I think what I’m trying to say is that although I didn’t enjoy this book, and rated it accordingly, I think there are people who would (and have) loved it. I wouldn’t rule out reading anything else by this author, but this book wasn’t for me. Recommended if you love poetry that doesn’t rhyme and for people who own psychedelic The Doors t-shirts.