It took me 12 days to read this book. TWELVE days. It’s probably never taken me twelve days to read anything, so I’ve been trying to figure out why. It could simply be my own state of mind – I’ve been spending the past few weeks in and out of a depressive state where I can only function at work and once I get home I need to be prone on the couch with wine and the entire British Mysteries category of Netflix. When I get this way I often read my way out of it with books that move me – Junot Diaz, Austen, and Keats – or books that make me feel less alone – Marian Keyes, Elizabeth Gilbert. So it is hardly the fault of Caite Dolan-Leach that I couldn’t really ever get into Dead Letters.
It certainly was not for a lack of plot. The sheer planning of this book must have taken a year, it is complicated and sometimes admirably bizarre. It is also a bit hard to explain, but I’ll give it a whirl. Ava Antipova has just returned to her childhood home because her twin sister, Zelda, has been killed in a fire. The twins grew up as close as sisters can be, united by the constant upheaval in their parent’s terrible marriage, they relied only on each other. After an act of betrayal by Zelda, Ava has fled to Paris (as one does) for graduate school and has been gone, refusing to even answer Zelda’s plaintive emails, for two years. When she learns that Zelda has died, she leaves her delicious French boyfriend (as one does not) and rushes back home, a decaying vineyard, to take care of matters with their dementia inflicted mother and long estranged father.
The plans to settle loose ends and plan for a funeral are slowed by the fact that Zelda’s body can’t be conclusively identified, and it occurs to Ava that this all seems a little not right. Then the emails begin. An obviously un-dead Zelda starts emailing Ava, giving her instructions for a scavenger hunt so intricate and unrealistic that days went by before I could pick the damn book up again. This is an entire book of red herrings and coincidences so outrageous they could not possibly work in any way. I just got so frustrated with this story – mostly because it really sets up to be a great one but then just falls apart in the elaborateness of it. Probably half of the twists and turns could have been taken out and it would have still made sense and been much more interesting.
This book has been categorized as a thriller – it is not. Also a mystery, and sure. It is more of a case study of the dysfunction of siblings and the impact and power people have over their family than anything, but I’m probably making it sound more erudite than it actually is. I figured out the ending about halfway through, because I am a genius (I am not), and you probably will too, and that is not a strike against it. I may read it again when I can see colors and light, but probably not.
Dead Letters – Grade C+