What Dead Letters wants to be: Gone Girl.
What Dead Letters is: drunk hide n’ seek.
I understood this story to be both a thriller and a mystery. Described as a literary scavenger hunt, I thought I was hunkering down for a wild ride and a stunning ending. Ava’s estranged twin sister Zelda perished in a barn fire, and Ava must race home to upstate New York to see to her ailing mother and attend her sister’s funeral? Only to discover that her sister has planted clues all over their hometown in an effort to play a manic game? I can’t wait to dig in!
Then, I met the cast.
What a bunch of narcissistic ne’er-do-wells. When the characters of this novel weren’t falling down drunk, they were viciously sniping at one another. Every time I thought that I had encountered the worst personality that the book had to offer, I met the next idiot in line. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t have to love a book’s characters to love the book. But for heaven’s sake – how about ONE, just one person that we can get behind?
Ava, in an attempt to run from her ridiculous family, left their failing vineyard to attend graduate school in Paris. She’s doing quite well for herself in her studies and loves to spend time with her Parisian boyfriend, when she suddenly gets word that her twin sister Zelda has died in a fire back home. She begrudgingly heads to New York for the funeral, meets her father (who long ago left his family for a new life in California), and they head to the home of Ava’s childhood. There, we meet Ava and Zelda’s ghastly mother, who is suffering from early dementia and the chronic need to emotionally abuse her daughter. Next intro is to Ava’s grandmother, who is as wealthy as she is contemptible. Do you see a pattern? We also must not forget the fact that everyone in this absurd family spends most of the novel drunk. If I heard one more description of a cork removal, or one more quipped “get me another bottle before you leave,” I was going to scream.
I understand that the novel was trying to paint a picture of dysfunction. Why else would someone appear to stage their own death to get back at her “loved” ones? (Using that word loosely – I don’t think anyone in this family is capable of that emotion.) What the reader is supposed to be tormented by is the looming question of where Zelda actually is. Is she avoiding bankruptcy and her drug-ridden life by hiding? Did she run away with someone? Or – and please excuse me if I say this without an ounce of emotion – did she really perish in that bizarre barn fire?
About midway through the novel, I started to appreciate the efforts of narrator Jorjeana Marie. She worked tirelessly to breathe emotion into the characters, and effortlessly captured the frustration of Ava and the flippant nature of her twin. Unfortunately, her breezy tones and skill at portraying tirades were not enough to carry the plot.
Overall, while I acknowledge the attempt to capture my attention and leave me breathless with unanswered questions, I’m afraid that the only thing the book managed to do was make me angry. Zelda’s “Z is for Zelda” letters and her planted “clues” were too glib to be compelling, and Ava’s disdain for everyone and everything became the quintessential “spoiled brat” persona that we see in entitled toddlers.
In other words, hateful cast + ridiculous plot line + lackluster ending = miffed reader.
I have read reviews of this novel that claimed that this was not intended to be a thriller, but rather, a character study. I beg to differ; the description clearly stated that it was a “debut novel of suspense.” I believe that Dead Letters was likened to other novels in the thriller genre in an effort to increase readership.
If this truly was a character study, then I’m afraid it wasn’t a very good one. I fully understand that there are awful people out there, and I understand that families can be made up of very unkind people.
I just don’t want to waste my spare time reading about them.
2 stars for Dead Letters.