Ella Minnow Pea

I don't really read absurdest books, but I thought I'd give Ella Minnow Pea a try after it was recommended by several different people. It's excellent. Ella Minnow Pea is a young woman who is living on the fictitious island of Nollop off the coast of South Carolina. Nollop is named for Nevin Nollop, of course. And the town reveres him. He wrote the sentence, "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog." which uses every letter of the alphabet. The sentence is a pangram which is a sentence composed of all the letters of the alphabet. The book is epistolary in nature, meaning the story is told through letters.

The story starts out when one of the letters (Z) immortalizing the phrase falls off the facade of the town hall. No one knows quite what to do. The town council decided it is a sign from Nollop and from that time on the letter cannot be used in speech or print. There are escalating punishments for using the banned letter. The only ones excused from the rules are children age 7 and under.

All kinds of problems result. First the library must be cleared of every book that contains the letter. The school teachers may not utter the word, citizens cannot use it in speech or letters, etc. This continues through each missing letter. Towns people leave in droves and a small rebellion starts. Ella is caught in the tumult over the missing letters. Ella's mother receives a letter from a reporter (Nate) who is doing a series on Nollop and has heard of the falling letters and the town council's actions. He sneaks onto the island and goes to an open town meeting where he is discovered for the reporter he is. He is offered his choice of punishments but he agrees to write a similar sentence using all the letters of the alphabet, only this time he will use only 32 letters (Nollop used 35). He has 3 weeks to get this done. The race is on.

Nate has a small group working with him. They are trying to come up with a sentence but the 32 character limit is frustrating their progress. Meanwhile letters continue to fall and the council's actions are growing more outrageous. They seize property, shut down businesses and generally intrude on every part of the citizen's lives. Nate comes closer with the sentence.

The story line is clever. It shows up human failings and foibles and the consequences of censorship and totalitarianism run wild. As more letters fall the words in the story are spelled more creatively. Ella tells the story through letters to her cousin and parents. The absurdity of the whole situation actually had me laughing.

This book is a word lovers dream. I recommend it if you are looking for something a little different.

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