It all begins underneath a white crepe-paper wedding bell during a dull wedding reception. John's wearing a crumpled boutonniere, Jane's in a dress that hugs her in all the wrong places, and yet they find themselves wrapped up in clever and flirtatious repartee that somehow gets them wrapped up in each other in a cramped coat closet. After this initial intimate encounter, they decide that this random lusty moment could be the start of something substantial, romantic, maybe even refreshing. The near-strangers agree to tell each other all their dreams, passions and secrets through letters no e-mail in Which Brings Me to You: A Novel in Confessions by Steve Almond and Julianna Baggott. What follows are engaging, alternating chapters that reveal the lives of these two emotional roller coasters.
The letters open with quirky and charming nicknames Depraved Robin Hood, Freeway Flasher and the stories start to flow. The two trade tales of failed love affairs, including entanglements with a Parisian destined for mandatory military service, an attractive married couple, an unpredictable college dropout with a cowboy hat and a mysterious problem, a Latina man-eater, and a sensual pastry chef who is the mother of a poised and precocious six-year-old. Soon, the series of recklessly honest, witty confessions turns into something more as it becomes clear that John and Jane are reaching out for some kind of redemption, understanding and, most of all, love.
Almond, who teaches creative writing at Boston College, is best known for his memoir Candyfreak, and Baggott has published three previous novels and a book of poetry, as well as children's books under the pseudonym N.E. Bode. Their two-sided tell-all details the pitfalls of modern love and is sprinkled with death, love, punk bands and nasty run-ins with postal carriers. Which Brings Me to You is a sure to be the most insightful and intelligently written novel you've read in quite some time.
Stephanie Szymanski is a writer in Pennsylvania.