Monday, October 6, 2008

Michael Kimball's "Dear Everybody"

Michael Kimball's first two novels are The Way the Family Got Away (2000) and How Much of Us There Was.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new novel, Dear Everybody, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Dear Everybody is a good page. It’s in the middle of the “1980” chapter, when Jonathon is 13 years old. Page 99 has three different kinds of pieces—(1) a letter from Jonathon Bender (the main character); (2) a conversation between Jonathon’s father and brother; and, (3) a diary entry from Jonathon’s mother.

1. The Letter.

Dear Mr. Sun,

Do you remember how you used to burn my skin during those summers while I was trying to grow up. People didn’t know that they were supposed to use sunblock back then, but I really needed something besides the clouds that would have protected me from you.

Jonathon Bender is writing letters of apology to nearly everybody he has ever known and through doing so he tells his life story. This particular letter shows Jonathon’s sometimes skewed understanding of the world and the people around him. Other letters are written to Jonathon’s mother and father, his brother and other relatives, his childhood friends and neighbors, the Tooth Fairy, his classmates and teachers, his psychiatrists, his ex-girlfriends and his ex-wife, the state of Michigan, a television station, and a weather satellite.

2. The Conversation.

From a Talk Between Robert and Thomas

Tom: The next time that I got promoted, I moved out of the sales force and into management. It was an office job, here in the home office in Lansing.

Rob: I remember. I was glad. I thought that I was going to get to see you more.

Tom: At first, I tried to be the father and the husband that I thought I was supposed to be. After few months, I began to stay late at the office so that I didn’t have to go home for dinner. I began to get up early in the mornings so that I didn’t have to see you and your brother before you went off to school.

Rob: I remember, but I thought that you had gone back into sales.

There are many different transcripts of conversations included in the novel. Robert, Jonathon’s brother, is trying to piece Jonathon’s life back together after his suicide. This particular conversation between Jonathon’s father and brother shows how difficult the father is, how absent, and how dysfunctional the home life would have been.

3. The Diary Entry.

From the Diary of Alice Bender

November 12, 1980

Jonathon thinks he killed his grandfather. I don’t know why. I told him his grandfather had been sick with a bad heart. J keeps talking about batteries and some clock and something to do with his Walkman. I can’t understand him. I think there might really be something wrong with the way J thinks.

The mother’s diary entry shows her dawning realization of her son’s mental illness. Most of the diary entries relate to Jonathon in some way, but many of them also concern the mother’s attempts to cope with the difficult family life (which this one doesn’t).

These are 3 of the 400+ pieces that make up Dear Everybody. Many of these, 200+ or so, are Jonathon’s letters to nearly everybody he has ever known. The novel also includes newspaper articles, psychological evaluations, weather reports, a missing person flyer, a eulogy, a last will and testament, and many other fragments, which taken together tell the story of the short life of Jonathon Bender, weatherman.
Read an excerpt from Dear Everybody, and learn more about the book and author at Michael Kimball's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue