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Letter from Point Clear: A Novel Paperback – May 27, 2008

3.9 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

An absorbing, resonant domestic drama, McFarland's latest follows the dysfunctional Owen family's reunion in Point Clear, Ala., 10 months after the death of the family's alcoholic patriarch, Roy. Of the three adult children, Ellen, a published poet, is separated from her husband for the summer and caring for their young son, Willie. With her high-strung, opinionated brother, Morris, and Richard, Morris's partner of 14 years, Ellen and Willie travel to the family's Point Clear estate, where the youngest, Bonnie, has been living since abandoning a floundering Manhattan theatrical career to care for ailing Roy. The occasion is Bonnie's quickie marriage to a young, dashing evangelical preacher named Pastor Vandorpe, who credits himself with having saved Bonnie. Bonnie is pregnant and, she tells an incredulous Ellen, happy. The addition of Pastor's pious parents powers a destructive tension, with everyone locking horns over homosexuality, gay marriage, religion and property ownership. A strained family dinner denouement ignites a clash pitting Ellen and Morris against an ex-gay minister invited to save Morris. Can a crisis of faith be far behind? Though McFarland (Prince Edward, etc.) imparts a religious message that feels heavy-handed in spots, his ability to tap the hearts and minds of his carefully considered characters adds up to an evocative novel. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

In his latest novel, McFarland returns to a favored theme of a family ravaged by tragedy, only in this case it would seem the tragedy is one of their own making. Safely ensconced in their respective New England homes, siblings Ellen and Morris Owen learn of their younger sister's impetuous marriage to an evangelical minister actually named Pastor Vandorpe, and that the couple are now residing in the family mansion along the Alabama coast. Assuming that, like her drug abuse and failed acting career, this is yet another one of Bonnie's reckless forays into self-destruction, Ellen and Morris rush home to assess the situation for themselves. They find Bonnie calm, happy, and several months pregnant, but as the pastor spends more time with the brother-in-law he just found out is gay, his ministerial duty to correct the error of Morris' ways threatens to unravel his marriage, if not his psyche. Portraying each conversation and every encounter as an emotional minefield, McFarland is at the peak of his psychological prowess. Haggas, Carol --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 354 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; 1st edition (May 27, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312427913
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312427917
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,698,378 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Big D VINE VOICE on February 24, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Discriptions are accurate and vivid, characters are well-developed, well created and well drawn, but the story was lacking, sometimes predictable, sometimes a stretch. The characters, so well drawn, so real and so alluring, deserved a better, more believable, less predictable, story.

Went into this book with high hopes, but mostly felt disappointment. The characters clunked along in a predictable story with an attempt at a surprising ending. The whole thing fell kind of flat.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have read about 12 books this summer and this is the one that really stands out and lingers in my mind. The heart, the neurosis and especially the wit of the central family echoes Salinger in a way that reminded of why I love Salinger. The writing is beautiful and the characters complex. It is a cliche to say that I was sad to finish it but it is true. I cannot think of a recent book I have enjoyed more.
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Format: Paperback
There is nothing quite like sinking your teeth into a good novel, and Dennis McFarland certainly knows how to dish one up. His prose is elegant, his dialogue filled with dry, satirical wit and his insights into human nature both subtle and profound.

In a McFarland novel the question is not what happens, but who happens. In Letter From Point Clear, the "whos" are three siblings: Ellen, the doubt-filled eldest daughter who is struggling to find meaning in her marriage; Bonnie, the baby of the family, an impulsive, off-kilter, would-be actress; and Morris, the acerbic middle brother. When Ellen receives a letter explaining that Bonnie has gotten married to an Evangelical minister in Alabama, Ellen and Morris rush to the rescue, believing that Bonnie has yet again made a horrendous mistake. The mistake, of course, is that Bonnie has neglected to inform her husband, ironically named Pastor, that her brother is gay--and married to Richard. What inevitably ensues is Pastor's misguided attempt to "rescue" Morris from his sinful "lifestyle."

Like McFarland's previous novels, the characters are so vividly drawn that they seemed to leap off the page. The interactions between Morris and Pastor, especially, are humorous, tense, and filled with unexpected twists and turns. And while the conflict between Pastor and Morris is inevitable, the dramatic high point is hardly formulaic. The "Alabama" portion of the book had me turning the pages, laughing out loud, eager for the next confrontation. Unfortunately, this scrumptious filling was not matched by the quality of the bread that sandwiched it.

The beginning and end of this book were as bland as Wonderbread. I was tempted to put the novel down on many occasions during the "Cape Cod" segment at the beginning.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A lovely character piece that won't reinvent the novel, but does charm with it's simplicity. When Morris and Ellen receive a letter from their estranged sister Bonnie, they are moved into action. It seems the theatrical sibling has gotten married to a young minister and they are now living in the house the children have grown up in. With both parents being dead, Morris and Ellen head off to Alabama with the intent of meeting this man they're sure is going to take advantage of their sisters financial means, while also finally addressing whether they're ready to let their childhood home go.Morris has his own issues with his sister marrying a minister since he's been married to a man for the past fifteen years. McFarland's writing is fluid and beautiful, and many times it feesl like you're watching a play. I confess I kept waiting for something momentous to happen, but didn't feel disappointed in any way that something didn't. Ultimately reading this felt like peering through a keyhole into some other people's lives.
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Format: Paperback
Yet another novel with a southern setting that missed the mark. The boring characters were undeveloped and so was the plot. I kept plodding through, hoping that the storyline would improve. Unfortunately, it did not. The only thing I did like about this book was the descriptions of the heat and humidity -- you could actually feel the heat at times. Most of the landmarks mentioned are actually local to the Mobile and Baldwin County areas. Being overly familiar with the area for decades, I did at least feel that the author had actually visited the places he wrote about. Aside from that, I am happy that I only paid $1.00 for this book at a recent library book sale.
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Format: Hardcover
If you, as I do, adore domestic realism spiced with dry wit, oblique cultural references, exchanges that don't require authorial intrusion as to meaning, all taking place within marriage and/or four walls of a house, look no further. This is literary fiction at its best: a story based on the characters, not on their actions. Morris is petualant and petty, Ellen is distant and unnecessarily unfulfilled, and Bonnie is rash and probably spoiled, but I'd like to hang out with all of them. You can have your circus stories and your chick lit, I'll take Letter From Point Clear. And check out Tessa Hadley's The Master Bedroom or Accidents In The Home.
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Format: Hardcover
This was a wonderful read. The plot weaves between such dicey topics as religion, homosexuality, parents, siblings and all the connections between. The characters are thinkers, but possess an ability for introspection and self-doubt that makes them real, vulnerable, and humble, as they search for humility among their egos.
Dennis McFarland uses language gracefully, and with a smattering of perfect vocabulary and credible dialogue. Now and then I was reminded of two of my all-time favorite books: Light Years, by James Salter, and Crossing To Safety, by Wallace Stegner. I was sad to reach the inevitable end, when loose ends were tied up somehow, and all the characters returned to their respective places from where the book began. Highly recommended.
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