Book Review: Ella Minnow Pea

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This is one of the cutest, cleverest books I have ever read.  Despite it being liberally seasoned with fifty dollar words (I love learning new words as much as any bibliophile, but this novel was a bit rich), it did fit the culture of the characters.  I was skeptical that cleverness would override character development, but quite the contrary:  Every character was a delight, though sometimes I would have to look at the next page and see who wrote the letter.

The entire text is written in “epistle” form, which concerned me at first, but it was perfect for this book.  I thought the idea of child scribes an interesting one, because, according to the Mormon religion, the age of eight is the age of accountability.  The Island of Nollop sounded like such a unique place, I’d love to visit there myself, if it only existed.

Though “Ella Minnow Pea” seems a trifle little delight on the surface, there are deeper issues at play:  preserving the right to say what we want while still retaining our right to property, which is sacrosanct, the dangers of idol worship, ignoring scientific proof, the power of communication, the threat of incrementalism, and the atrocities that can happen when a tiny nation is somewhat cut off from the rest of the world, both culturally and technologically.  Though the book is set during the time it was published, it is not of this world, but rather an alternate reality—same time, same place, but in some other dimension—a parallel universe, perhaps.  I could not put this book down, because the journey to the punchline was so engaging.  The ending was brilliantly foreshadowed (though, to be fair, the author did not come up with the emancipating pangram on his own).

Towards the end, the book got a bit harder to read, but that didn’t last overlong.  “Ella Minnow Pea” showed that humans are resilient creatures, and that even if government can censor speech, they cannot censor thoughts; that mankind will always find a way to express themselves, even, like the Alison Krauss song goes, when they say nothing at all.

The Diner Hour

Scenic 90 Cafe

Once upon a time in Pensacola,
Ella May Cinders—
a waitress of generous proportions—
lived with her evil stepbrothers,
Randy the Handyman,
who was anything but handy,
(just randy),
and Andy Jack-a-Dandy,
who disdained her fashion nonsense.

Jeb, her evil stepfather,
who liked to hedge funds,
had expected her to take over
his late wife’s wifely duties—
save those in the bedroom.

Eking out a hardscrabble existence
amongst the one-percenters that frequented
The Shiny Diner—
known as Scenic 90 Café—
she never lost hope that a single tip
would change her life,
as it was against the law in this parallel universe
for a woman to leave her father
without a husband—
to be “uncleaved”.

Ella Mae’s auto was a Caddy from the last Millennium,
having not seen an oil change in 5000 miles,
the white paint chipping away like eczema.
Her black uniform was soft and thin
from so many washings,
and her shoes had holes in the soles and toes.
She was a mess.

Every day, when she went in to work,
there was Ashton Prince at Table 25,
who was looking for a wife.
Thirty to her twenty,
and a Mormon at that,
he was gloriously unmarked—
piercings and tattoos had he none.

But alas, this prince saw her only
as a server willing to chitchat,
for she was known as “The Comely Backwater Kid”.
Though her hands were clean,
her hair needed a cut,
for the ends split every which way.

Pale and wan,
she was often tired
from cleaning up after her father and brothers.
She never thought of her mother,
who’d only married the miser for his money,
thinking it would benefit her daughter.
She laughed miserably at the irony
that she was poorer than she had been
when her 99-percenter father had been alive.

So there was Ashton,
ordering his usual—
the Steak Diane—
with Rosy, the waitress,
a riveting one, at that,
with her Italian charm and French perfume,
talking him into some dessert.

Ella still had twenty minutes till her shift,
and so she went to the picnic table out back,
where no one was smoking for a change.
She started to cry,
pulling an old napkin—
smelling of brown gravy—
from her apron.

Then suddenly,
a man she had never seen,
wearing the uniform of the diner,
came up to her,
sooty as a coal miner.

“Hello,” she said, sniffling,
and he smiled and said,
“I’m Harry, and I’m here for you.”
Ella looked around,
but he told her not to fear,
for her fairy godfather was here.

“I’m here to make your prince see you
as you really are—the Daughter of a King.”

Since it was Halloween night,
he dressed her up as the Duchess of Cambridge;
her Caddy was now a mint-green Minnie Cooper,
her shoes making her feel ten feet tall.

“T’will be when the diner closes at nine,
the spell will be broken,
and you will be as you were,
so you’ve but four hours to make this man
fall in love with you, Ella unseen.”

He sprinkled some dust,
ground from the seeds of forget-me-nots,
so that none would recognize her.

She walked through the front door—
no longer “the help”—
breezing by the hostess.
She went to the booth where her prince
was soothing his sweet tooth,
and asked, “Is this seat taken?”

So taken with her he was,
over the course of an hour,
and three courses in,
that he pulled his mother’s engagement ring
from his pocket.
“Whosoever this ring fits,
that will be the girl for you,” she’d said.
He let her try it on,
and it fit like a Trump in a tower.

Suddenly, it was closing time,
and she said, “I have to go”,
but the spell broke before she could get away,
and he saw her as she had been,
and as she was now.

“Forgive me, Ella, for being such a dolt,
for you had my heart at ‘Sweet or Unsweet?’”

He took her away from her evil brood,
and they were married in the temple the next day
possible.
She got to know her Heavenly Father,
and knew through Him,
she would be reunited with her earthly father,
and would be sealed for time and all eternity
to her prince in a shining Mercedes.

As for Randy, Andy, and Jeb,
they eventually each ran for mayor,
using the Princess of Pensacola,
Mrs. Ella Prince,
as their claim to the seat.

At long last, Ella was happy—
happy to not endorse any of them.

A Fairy-Tale Bromance

Once upon a time in a parallel universe,
somewhere in the land of Chico, Cali,
Frick and Frack set out to seek their fortune
in a land called Silicone Valley.

Imbued with the entrepreneurial spirit,
they skated their way down the coast,
dreaming of the girls they’d meet–
buxom Nordics just under six feet.

It was then they came across Spick and Spann,
hair as blond as their eyes were blue,
who cleaned their clocks,
leaving them hanging by the ballocks.

Penniless, but now scrubbed clean,
they found their niche that made them rich—
peddling implants to transitional dudes,
only to have to recall for making them too small.

It was then that Frick and Frack knew they were the true boobs,
and they fell into a clinical depression,
until they met Tit and Tat (a cupple of A’s from the San Fran Bay),
and renounced their profession.

“Beauty is big or small,” they preached,
“dysmorphia we will no longer perpetuate,”
and they lived happily ever after,
nestled in a valley of the Golden State.

The Trees of Life: A Poem, and other musings

It has been almost a month since my last posting.  Spending more time with family, enjoying summer, and wading through all the red tape to go back to school has taken up most of June.  I have been hopping from Building 5 to Building 2 to back again for weeks now, and I have yet to make it to the beach.  It is the raining season in Florida.  One year (I don’t remember which, but it’s been within the last three years), it rained every day in July.  I have, however, made use of all my old seashells (pictures to come later).

I have finished my story for the Saturday Evening Post Great American Short Story contest, and I got together with a friend of mine over coffee to help me edit, and hopefully, publish and market “Golden Stars and Silver Linings”, my collection of children’s nursery rhymes (50 in all), complete with a few recreational drug references and double entendres (however unintentional).

Though I don’t consider writing poetry a waste of time (they’re great writing exercises and fun to write, too), poetry for adults just doesn’t sell; though I have several favorite poems by the greats (Robert Frost and Edgar Allan Poe), I never read modern, adult poetry.  I’ll still enter free poetry contests for which there is a cash prize (a pine needle in a hay bale?), but I refuse to pay any more entry fees when it comes to poetry contests.  Poetry isn’t hot (people like stories), and so those venues that publish it have to charge entry fees just to stay in print because they don’t make money off subscriptions.  Harlequin romances sell, and that’s my focus right now (as far as adult novels go).  Poetry might be more fun to write, to do, than to read (like tennis is more fun to play than watch).  I tend to feel about poetry in novels like I feel about paragraphs written in italics:  (obvious) dream sequences bore me as much in novels as they do in movies.

There is one movie, “The Woman in the Window”, with Edward G. Robinson and Joan Bennett (highly recommended), in which almost the entire movie is a dream, but that’s okay, because we don’t know it till the end.  The fact that it was all a dream was a bit of a letdown.

Though Dorothy’s adventures in Oz also turned out to be all a dream, I prefer to believe she somehow, telepathically, traveled to a parallel universe.

The poem you about to read is based in reality, though creative license was taken.  It was entered into a tree-themed poetry contest.  I never heard back, so I assumed it wasn’t chosen.  I have noticed that many journals that publish poetry specify they don’t care for rhymed poetry, that it reads better, blah, blah, blah.  I believe there is a certain snootiness where rhyming poetry is concerned–it is seen as not edgy or provocative, but trite and childish.  I disagree, as long as the rhyming isn’t forced and is written well.  With this poem, I experimented with rhyming every first and third line, and every second and fourth.  It was a very difficult task, and quite unnecessary; second and fourth would have been sufficient.

However, here it is:

The Trees of Life

Twas under the magnolia tree with its voluptuous, white blooms,
where I read piles of books while drinking sweet tea from a tall glass;
by the light of the pearl moon I read, the honeysuckle releasing its perfume,
my pillow a denim backpack, my bed a lush patch of St. Augustine grass.

Twas under my grandmother’s dying hickory trees,
that I wiled away the lazy summer days in sweet repose,
writing the kinds of stories I loved to read,
the scent of peach pound cake teasing my nose.

Twas under the ancient oak at my parents’ house on Jackson Street,
that my husband-to-be, knelt in the sand on one knee;
*his grandmother’s band of rose gold with a pearl solitaire,
slipped it on my finger–this intricate heirloom of sentimental wear.

Tis every birthday, under the curving colonnade on Twelfth Avenue,
my husband takes me to the Cactus Flower cafe,
classical music playing with the window down partway,
the breeze blowing through my hair those warm, September days.

Tis past rows of swaying palm trees I walk,
flip-flops slapping hot concrete on the way to the boardwalk–
the beauty of the Emerald Coast shimmering in the background,
full of seashells—jewels of the sea–just waiting to be found.

Tis under the Christmas tree,
I lay my baby daughter beside me,
to look up at the twinkling lights–
lights in red, green and white.

Tis amongst the pine trees in the park we watch our children play,
picnicking on our tattered blanket of blue and white squares,
enjoying a Southern smorgasbord of homemade foods artfully arrayed,
whilst a spray of dandelion seeds and yellow butterflies float in midair.

Tis under trees of various species,
we gather ’round the table in our backyard,
enjoying the warmth of the bricks under our feet,
the steaks juicy, the peaches deliciously charred.

And then the day will come and so it will be,
that under the shade of a weeping willow tree,
I will return to the earth in eternal rest,
peace in knowing I have lived my best.

Easter Sunday 2011