Friday, January 04, 2008


5 out of 5 stars

Ella Minnow PeaA book for linguists, logo-rhythmic lovers and political satirists, Ella Minnow Pea doesn't just make plays on words, but on letters.

Taking place on the fictional island of Nollop (an autonomous nation of letter writing lovers off the coast of South Carolina and named after Nevin Nollop who coined the pangram "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog"), readers are introduced to this (initally) utopian society that has shunned technology and has an Office of High Council members who become dictatorial when tiles placed nearly 100 years ago on a cenotaph of Nevin Nollop begin falling off. These tiles are letters that spell out Nollops famous aforementioned pangram.. The first letter to fall was a "Z" from "lazy" and the High Council (in all it's venerated wisdom towards Lord Nollop) decide that it's a sign from Heavenly Nollop himself that they are to strike the letter Z from all correspondences and speech. Libraries are divested of any books that contain the offending consonant. Punishments/laws are laid out for those who use it (1st offense: warning. 2nd offense: flogging or being placed in a headstock in full public view. 3rd offense: banishment from the island. Refusal to leave the island shall be punishable by death), and anyone whose name has a Z in it must change it.

It all seems a bit ridiculous and inconvenient, but most Nollopians go with it on the off-chance that the council is correct. But then more tiles begin falling and more letters deleted from the islanders lexicon. People rip through 1st, 2nd, and 3rd offenses. Families are torn asunder or removed from the island completely by its militaristic henchmen who are guided by the Council.

But what if the Council is wrong? What if it's just wear and time that've caused the tiles to break loose and not some otherworldly message from Lord Nollop? Nonsense, says the Council. It's a sign.

As more and more families are forced to leave their Island sanctuary, the Council becomes greedy by confiscating the evacuated landholdings left behind and claiming it in the name of governmental need.

A challenge is finally put forth to disprove Nevin Nollops saintliness by coming up with a new pangram shorter than the original. But can it be done in time to save the island and its inhabitants?

The comedy is pretty high in Ella Minnow Pea. Told via letters written to various Nollopians, author Mark Dunn eliminates the lost consonants and vowels from his narrative as the story progresses and tiles are lost; a funny set of narratives that becomes a challenge as the story evolves. Example: months and days of the week are renamed with hilarious abandon ("Sunshine, Octane 22" ...That's Sunday, October 22).

Politically the focus is on the dangers of letting something truly ridiculous become accepted practice. But the narrative is handled so well that the nature of the story doesn't seem ridiculous at all. Mr. Dunn is in complete control of his twisted wording and language challenges, which makes Ella Minnow Pea such a unique and enjoyable read.


Vinnie's Head3 out of 5 starsJohnnie LoDuco isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer but he does have dumb luck on his side. After fishing best friend Vinnie’s head out of a river near Long Island, Johnnie finds himself in a real pinch. Already on the lam from the cops for a convenience store heist he didn’t commit, he now has to decide what to do with his buddies disembodied body part.

The head is the driving force behind everything else that happens in the story. Johnnie carries the head around, locks it in a freezer, even stuffs it in a carrying cooler. And death follows the head. Gangsters, a beautiful fem fatale named Jennifer Smeals, dirty cops, and a pretty young thing that Johnnie falls for named Patrice. On top of this, Johnnie has to try and avoid a bounty hunter named Stosh who’s dedication to his profession astonishes both character and reader.

But why is everyone interested in the head? Especially Jennifer Smeals and a local thug named Malatesta? Close examination of it by Johnnie and Patrice reveal nothing except noxious odors. But Paraguay, smut books, computer programs and deadly folk all play a part in what lay ahead for Vinnie’s head.

There’s a lot of dry wit (perhaps too dry) in author Marc Lecard’s debut comedy crime-noir novel but with an ending plot that is — unfortunately — over-the-top. Death and redemption go hand-in-hand as Johnnie discovers all of the cons within cons that are designed to divest him not only of money, but probably his life. The overly-complicated ending plot wrap-ups didn’t fit well with the dumbed-down LoDuco (the story is told in first person via Johnnie) whom most readers will probably sympathize with and get angry at for not seeing what’s right under his nose.

That said, the story is a breezy read (up until the end) and has some chuckle moments but nothing that’ll cause serious belly laughs.

A fun read that most readers should be able to finish in one or two sittings.