Sunday, November 2, 2014

Hello From the Gillespies

Title:  Hello From the Gillespies
Author:   Monica McInerney
Publication Information:  NAL Trade. 2014. 624 pages.
ISBN:  0451466721 / 978-0451466723

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Favorite Quote:  "Sometimes I wish everything and everyone would go away. Just for a little while. Not permanently. Please don't misunderstand me. I love my husband. My children. My life here on the station, here in Australia. I really do. But I think if I could press a pause button for a while, have some time to myself, a little peace, a lot of quiet, time to reflect, I would be a much better mother, a much better wife, a much better person. I think I urgently need a little bit of time off from worrying about everything, from being me, all day, every day, months and years on end. Is that too much to ask? Is that selfish of me?"

"Hello from the Gilliespies" is the greeting with which Angela Gillespie starts her Christmas letter. Christmas letters are an annual tradition for some families. They accompany holiday cards and provide details on the happenings in the family over the course of the year. They serve as a vehicle to update other family members and friends. Usually, the letters highlight the positives and the accomplishments in the family.

Angela Gillespie has been doing hers for thirty-three years, starting with the year she and Nick Gillespie married. The letters are a chronicle of their lives together - marriage, life on their sheep station Errigal in the Australian outback, the births of their four children, and then the lives of their children - twins Victoria and Genevieve, Rosalind or Lindy, and Ignatius or Ig.

This year, however, "the words just wouldn't come." Frustrated, Angela pours her heart out in a draft letter. She begins, "It's been a terrible year for the Gillespies. Everything seems to have gone wrong for us." She goes on to outline her worries about Nick, her marriage, and each of the children - from Genevieve's career in Hollywood to Victoria's affair; from Lindy's debt to Ig's imaginary friend. Pages upon pages of her thoughts. Of course, she has no intention of sending it out.

Not surprisingly, things happen, and the letter is inadvertently sent out to the over 100 people - relatives and friends alike - on her list. The repercussions are positive and negative, all coming back to Angela as all the Gillespies gather for Christmas.

A fun set up and a great build-up to the story. Many people can relate to Angela's feelings. "What woman hasn't sometimes wished she was someone else? Or wondered how her life could have been different, if she'd made other choices?" Many often wonder what would happen if the truth - the whole unvarnished truth - was told rather than the highlight reels we find in Christmas letters, holiday cards, Facebook posts, and other such mediums. Most people will never do it, but it's fun to imagine what if.

As expected, reactions from the recipients of the letter range from "what were you thinking" to "wish we had the courage." Reactions from those talked about in the letter also range in emotion and intensity. All manner of reactions to the Christmas letter are present, but very quickly resolved - a little too quickly. Fully developed, the reactions and the characters could have formed an entire book - even a 600 page one.

Instead of fully exploring the impact of the letter on emotions and relationships, the book takes a completely different and unexpected turn. The story remains about family and shared memories and what ifs, but it moves aways from the initial premise of the book - what happens if our completely unfiltered, unedited thoughts are spoken out loud.

Without a spoiler, let's just say the story remains about family and about shared pasts and shared futures. However, the dynamic and the main focus shifts away from the Christmas letter and its ramifications. Financial worries, medical worries, relationship worries, and business worries all play a role. The question of "what if" underlies the entire story but in a completely different way. This second story does not truly need the Christmas letter as the background. It can exist on its own as a book with far less build up.

It's almost like reading two different stories about the same family and the setting.. Both are light and easy reads despite the length of the book. Both are entertaining. Two entertaining stories for the price of one!

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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