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Whalestoe Letters Paperback – October 10, 2000


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 86 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; 1st edition (October 10, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375714413
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375714412
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #57,557 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

“From the madhouse, Johnny Truant’s mother writes some of the most tender, chilling, faux-psychotic writing I’ve ever read. This dangerous, lucid, confused but very eloquent lady . . . is playful, apologetic, crazed, paranoid, self-abasing, cunning—a tigress with a gift for gab.”
—Robert Kelly, The New York Times Book Review
 
The Whalestoe Letters are dazzling.”
—Steven Moore, The Washington Post
 
“Danielewski has a songwriter’s heart.”
—John Freeman, Time Out New York

From the Inside Flap

Between 1982 and 1989, Pelafina H. Lièvre sent her son, Johnny Truant, a series of letters from The Three Attic Whalestoe Institute, a psychiatric facility in Ohio where she spent the final years of her life. Beautiful, heartfelt, and tragic, this correspondence reveals the powerful and deeply moving relationship between a brilliant though mentally ill mother and the precocious, gifted young son she never ceases to love.

Originally contained within the monumental House of Leaves, this collection stands alone as a stunning portrait of mother and child. It is presented here along with a foreword by Walden D. Wyhrta and eleven previously unavailable letters.

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Customer Reviews

They're certainly not literature.
Lionheart
The book is short, but it really keeps your attention.
Bruce Rux
I prefer a more coherent plot line.
Imanewme

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

70 of 73 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Rux on July 28, 2002
Format: Paperback
The book is short, but it really keeps your attention.
Danielewski does a brilliant job of portraying a woman on, and over, the edge. The first person authoress of the letters comprising Whalestoe's text is a mother in a madhouse, writing to her estranged son, John. She seems a nice enough woman to begin with, if a bit dramatic and given to airs - what is she doing locked up in a loony-bin?
That, of course, is the story. As the letters progress, the institutionalized woman's state of mind becomes more apparent, as does her history. Eventually, it all spills out - and quite memorably, at that.
I'm especially impressed with this book for a personal reason, which is that I knew a woman with a near-identical history in what was then our local mental hospital, over thirty years ago. Like the woman narrating Danilewski's book in her epistles, you wouldn't have had any idea there was anything wrong with her upon first meeting. Once you got to know why she was locked up, it chilled you. I was less than ten years old, and it made the blood drain from my face, even then. But I couldn't help liking her and feeling sorry for her, at the same time.
And that is the real beauty of Danielewski's character portrayal: the writer of the letters remains sympathetic, despite her past. The reader feels genuine pity, once the reason for her incarceration is understood and its effects on her become evident. She's a sometimes frightening woman, but very sad at the same time. Her life has been spent in a sort of penance, and her letters to her son are sometimes heartwrenching. In a number of words amounting only to a glorified novella, Danielewski convincingly tells an entire life story, and makes you feel it with surprising depth.
I haven't read the author's House of Leaves, but will now that I've read this remarkable tour de force of minimalist writing and psychological portraiture.
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful By E. A Solinas HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 5, 2006
Format: Paperback
One of the most compelling parts of the brilliant "House of Leaves" was Appendix II, Part E -- the "Whalestoe Letters."

But is it worth getting the novella, if the original book already has the "Whalestoe Letters"? Yes, frankly -- Mark Z. Danielewski did a brilliant job expanding the letters and characters in the original appendix, where a mother's devotion turns out to be the tip of the iceberg.

The book compiles the letters from Pelafina H. Lièvre to her son Johnny Truant. Pelafina is in the Whalestoe psychiatric clinic, although at first it isn't clear why. She sends doting, poetic, adoring letters to her young son, who is being raised by an abusive foster father.

But when Pelafina stops taking her medication, her mental state deteriorates. She becomes paranoid, hallucinates, and sends bizarre nonsensical letters and limericks to Johnny (including a jumbled one that is made up almost entirely of "forgive me"). But even when the doctors manage to pull her back from the brink, Pelafina's desperation consumes her.

"Letters" books are usually disasters, because the authors cannot put enough feeling and energy into the letters. Mark Z. Danielewski is definitely the exception. This one-sided correspondence is enough to inspire plenty of pity and horror -- all the worse because this sort of thing happens in real life.

Danielewski plots the story almost like a mystery, dropping little hints during Pelafina's more sane moments. At first she seems normal if a bit overdevoted. But as she spirals into madness, we see just how mad she is, the things she has done before her institutionalization, and the terrible event which caused Johnny's father to have her locked up.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Tanya L. Huey on October 6, 2007
Format: Paperback
An awesome complimentary to House of Leaves. This book really helps you to get inside of Johnny's head and know why he is the way he is... if that makes sense. If you have read House and need more, try this out.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By GeckoGirl on January 19, 2007
Format: Paperback
I love this. Not only are the original letters from House of Leaves included, but new ones are added giving better background and understanding of the House of Leaves character. A very good investment, glad it was made into a seperate book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By IzaiahMedina on September 24, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is simply an anthology of the letters sent between Johnny Truant and his mentally ill mother, Pelafina during her stay in a psychiatric hospital. While a majority of these exchanged messages are included in the appendix of House of Leaves, there are a few additions. This text seems unnecessary because it doesn't quite expand on the story, but as someone who was enthralled by HoL I found it pleasing to have a separate collection of the depth creating digression. I can only recommend The Whalestoe Letters to those whom were truly engaged by the horror of House of Leave, which I trust is anyone whom gave it a read.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Kathleen Emhof on July 2, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I found this book to be very enlightening. I would have preferred to read this book along the same time as HOUSE of Leaves. I think that it complemented the other book so well. It is a very short read though.
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30 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Scott Richardson VINE VOICE on July 16, 2002
Format: Paperback
Rather than reading Appendix II-E of House of Leaves and then reading Whalestoe Letters, you might as well read the latter instead of the former.
The major difference is that, where II-E shows a fairly linear descent from sanity to insanity, WL provides a more complex story, showing that Pelafina had earlier episodes of madness than II-E lets on.
In and of itself, WL doesn't really do much, but it does flush out the story of House of Leaves a bit.
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