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Dear Strangers: A Novel Hardcover – February 4, 2010

10 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Mullins (The Rug Merchant) creates a thematically heavy but emotionally vacant web of connections in her second novel. For siblings Oliver and Mary, a series of tragedies defines their childhood. On the same day that a neighborhood girl dies, their pathologist father also dies suddenly, leaving their mother to abandon the adoption of what would be the family's third child. Twenty-one years later, Mary, a flight attendant, maintains a safe cruising altitude above the pain and loss that, to her, characterize life. Oliver, obsessed with finding his lost brother, helps grieving families memorialize loved ones by creating video tributes to their lives. Oliver's encounter with Miranda, a beautiful young photographer-artist, is the first of a series of interactions among strangers who might become something more. Mullins's novel is an extended exploration of similar connections made and missed, but the author is more focused on driving home her ideas than developing her characters, who come across as thematic functionaries. The emotional vacuum left in the wake of Mullins's dedication to her ideas makes this a difficult book to get into. (Feb.)
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From Booklist

Oliver is only seven when his father announces the family will adopt a baby boy. But when Oliver’s father suddenly dies, his mother finds she can no longer keep the baby and gives him away. It’s now 21 years later and Mom is remarried to the next-door neighbor, and Oliver is obsessed with finding his “almost brother.” While watching Jared, a young man believed to be the baby from years ago, Oliver meets and begins a relationship with Miranda, a quirky photographer who sends letters to strangers asking to take pictures of them in their homes. Oliver eventually confronts Jared with the adopted-brother theory and sets in motion events that will ultimately lead to unforeseen tragedy for Jared and Oliver’s families. A pair of seemingly disconnected side stories that add to the somber mood of Mullins’ novel eventually intertwine in odd and unexpected ways. In all, Mullins has created a bittersweet, poignant, and curious tale about how strangers can impact our lives, and how love and forgiveness have the power to renew. --Carolyn Kubisz

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult (February 4, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670021431
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670021437
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,234,089 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Alex S HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWER on February 27, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
If I had not read the back of this novel - giving the basic premise of Oliver looking for his adoptive brother - I might have put it down in confusion after the first chapter or two. Fortunately, this understanding made sense enough of the novel to keep me going.

The novel starts very slow - and the prologue is a glimpse into the novel itself - you are on the outside looking in on a story of strangers. They are strangers to you and strangers to one-another. Slowly you watch as you begin to understand the past, one small piece at at time, until all of the pieces join together in one explosive climax.

The novel is played against the background of two photographers, one who pieces lives together through video; and the other who takes photos of strangers in their homes in an attempt to build a connected web of the universal nature of humanity. Their perspective of what constitutes life is played out in the revelations of the novel itself, which seems to be a "video" of glimpses into the lives of the characters, with fades from one scene to another until the whole of the story (or life) and the connected nature of each individual is revealed.

I might have given the novel only 3 stars because it was so slow-paced at the beginning, but I found myself haunted by the ideas and concepts of the novel if not the characters themselves. From the beginning, I found quotes that I actually underlined in the book that made me think - things like Oliver wondering if when his Mother told him to lighten up, maybe what she meant was that he needed to dance.

In the end, if there is not a feeling of redemption, at least there is a feeling of hope that redemption can happen in spite of all circumstances.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By SandyCB VINE VOICE on February 21, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
What a struggle it was to finish this book. Although some of the writing was almost lyrical, it did nothing to move the story (such as it is) along, and I would have traded it all for more workman-like prose and a coherent plot. There's just too much: too much quirkiness, too many plot threads, and way too much coincidence.

At the heart of the plot is that the sudden death of a pathologist many years ago led to his wife's surrendering of the child they'd planned to adopt. The pathologist's young son feels the loss keenly, and years later as an adult resolves to find this child. We are asked to believe that an infant would be given to the widow weeks after her husband's demise, and furthermore to believe that once surrendered such a child could be found again. I found both points far-fetched, but they're easier to take than the son, who is making a living creating biographical videotapes for bereaved families, while using his spare time to dress like his father and create pseudo photographic memories for his lost brother. He meets up with a girl whose hobby is photographing people in their own homes at night -- they leave the curtains open as their consent. These are the sort of people you edge away from at parties -- creepy. Had the book dealt only with their relationship, it would have been far more coherent, but instead it veers off in other directions. We find out more about his sister, his mother, his neighbor, his lost brother, his lost brother's girl friend, and his neighbor's clients. Reading this book is the mental equivalent of visiting an all-you-can-eat buffet and taking a spoonful of everything. Too much, yet ultimately unsatisfying.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on March 1, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
nailed the underlying psychology of unresolved grief and the obsessional defenses against loss beautifully. I love to find a writer who 'gets' stuff like that....especially one with a gift for language that makes me want to read passages out loud every few pages. The apparent simplicity of the character development gives way to spare, but eloquent depth. And you ended it very nicely, a surprise and a resolution all wrapped up in the last chapter. The reader knows these quirky characters she's come to care about will all be OK.
I've ordered copies for five friends! Keep working, Meg...you have a growing fan club!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By patbell451 on February 22, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Dear Strangers is a great read! Just the right amount of pathos and humor. The emotional depth creates some tough moments, but, ultimately, the novel is mysterious and moving. I was especially taken with the unique characters and their trajectories. As a male reader, I really connected with Oliver who is trapped between his past and his future. The author is superb at capturing this angst. A deep, revelatory novel.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This was one of those books that I read and I kept on waiting for it to get better or pick up the pace. Like other reviewers, I was glad that I read the box (the back of the book), so that I had a clue to what in the heck was taking place.

The book never really grabbed me. I felt like I had to finish it in order to finish it--and not because I wanted to read it. Grief is a major theme in the book and this is such an important issue that I felt that it wasn't given proper exploration.

I finished the book and felt, "that's it."
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