Tuesday, May 5, 2009
Ella Minnow Pea; a progressively lipogrammatic epistolary fable, by Mark Dunn
Attention all dictionary devotees, thesaurus enthusiasts, and English afficionados: if you haven't partaken of Mr. Dunn's feast of words, your deprivation must end post haste.
Firstly, observe the title and vocalize quickly. Ha! More such potential punnery awaits on the pages.
On an island off the southeast coast of the United States, lives a population enamored of it's one claim to fame: a man who made up a sentence using all the letters of the English alphabet. "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog". (Such a sentence is called a pangram). Nevin Nollop, who coined the phrase, stands immortalized in stone at the center of the community, his pangram in tile along the base. Then one day a tile drops and the community descends into a lipogrammatic purgatory which almost destroys the island paradise the citizens so dearly love.
We live the crisis through the letters of Ella and her cousin Tassie. The island nation long eschewed modern technology in the early twentieth century, thus occupations on the island include that of washerwoman and pony express mail rider.
What crisis? Why the tile constitutes a message from the revered Nollop beyond the grave. The letter that fell from it's post, no longer worthy to remain in Nollop's sentence, must experience banishment from the lips, pens and books of the island. With one letter gone, the populace adjusted despite the High Council's strange decree. However, more followed. The punishment for using a banned letter ranges from admonishment by the local enforcement authorities to banishment from the island and in the most egregious rebellion, execution.
Perusing the last mailings of Ella, in which only a handful of characters may still be used, I found myself awestruck at the silence which ensued.
The solution? Ella must create a new pangram. A shorter pangram, only 32 letters total. Only a new pangram will prove to the power hungry Council that Nollop isn't God and release the locked up letters to the public. Can she do it? Can you?
A reading group guide can be found here.
I also suggest a dictionary/thesaurus as a companion book.