- Hardcover: 304 pages
- Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; First Edition edition (Aug. 7 2007)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0805077669
- ISBN-13: 978-0805077667
- Product Dimensions: 16.1 x 2.5 x 24.2 cm
- Shipping Weight: 363 g
- Average Customer Review: 1 customer review
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #4,376,083 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Letter from Point Clear: A Novel Hardcover – Aug 7 2007
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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.)
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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, CarolSee all Product description
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Transplants to the Bay State from Alabama, Ellen and Morris are both academic and close-knit. Ellen is a poet and Morris is a university professor, and they have a healthy relationship with their younger sister Bonnie, who has recently moved back to their family home in Point Clear after abandoning her career as an actress in New York City.
Roy Owen, the drunken and narcissistic family patriarch has been dead now for ten months and Bonnie had graciously helped take care of him until the end, even though Roy was not particularly interested in any of his children. Although they were not especially close to their father, ironically it is Ellen who grieves the saddest, deepest, and indeed the longest. Lately, however, it is Bonnie who has been most worrying Ellen as she's been kept in Point Clear by a new romance.
When Ellen receives a letter from Bonnie full of uncomfortable apologies, the effect is worrying to say the least. Apparently she has gone ahead and married an evangelical preacher by the name of Pastor Vandorpe whom she'd been seeing for awhile. The wedding was spontaneous and Bonnie is sorry if she hurt their feelings by not inviting them but she's found a measure of security and comfort and confesses that she's never felt with anybody the way she feels when she's with Pastor.
Meanwhile, Morris and Ellen gird their loins in preparation for the trip to Point Clear, with Morris especially hesitant to make the trip, unwilling to step back into the morass of hideous sanctimony known as southern hospitality and the inevitable brushes with racism, homophobia and "unwholesome cuisine" that inevitably ensures.
Upon arrival in Alabama, both are shocked at the intensity of Pastor's commitment to Bonnie, the depth of his immediate understanding of her lifelong troubles, and his immediate acceptance of Ellen and Morris into the fold. Bonnie, however, still oozes a kind of unchecked fear and readily admits that sadly she's constantly been fretting about Morris and Ellen's opinions.
It seems that her decision to marry so suddenly had also allowed her to postpone the business of admitting Morris's sexual orientation to Pastor and deep down she hates herself for thinking of Morris as "a problem, as something to avoid." While the surprisingly tolerant Rex, Pastor's father instructs his son to mind his own business with regard to Morris, Pastor launches a Prayer Team to pray over Morris, hopefully save his "sinful" brother-in-law from his Massachusetts marriage.
As the close family ties begin to fragment, sides are inevitably taken over Morris. Ellen is pulled towards a delayed consideration of the house, the house of her childhood that has now been altered by Bonnie's fanatical remodeling and the permanent departure of their father. Curious over her own intentions, Bonnie is torn in her undeniable attraction to the much younger Pastor, but dissatisfied with him and sometimes downright angry, especially over his attitudes towards Morris's homosexuality. For his part, Pastor is torn between his strong desires for Bonnie and his very deep need to be cherished and loved by Morris and Ellen.
It is eventually left up to Ellen who increasingly finds herself diffused across the bleak prospect of rescuing everyone, and she constantly frets about Morris and how Pastor's manipulations, well-intentioned or not, might hurt her brother, and also how it might affect Bonnie's marriage. She also has to contend with her own marital problems with Dan and her worries about Willie's well being.
Touching on matters of faith, forgiveness - and in an oblique way - the nature of prejudice and sin, author Dennis McFarland has written a lovely and deeply moving novel about the ties that bind us together and the issues that cause us to drift apart. These are all lucky people in life, not to just materially have everything, but also to have each other and the deeply held bond that exists between them all is both touching and inspirational.
McFarland beautifully charts the course of their time together as the Owen family rises above their disagreements about money, and faith, and sexuality. In the end, their journey is funny and sad and also quite profound and heart rendering. Mike Leonard August 07.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
That's a rather crude summary, and suggests a setup for a lot of dramatic and comic confrontations, of which there are plenty, but this book is far from crude. Everything is subtle and many-layered. The scene-setting, mostly on Mobile Bay and Cape Cod, is magnificent, and the dialog pitch-perfect and sophisticated.
The structure is artful, with a series of acts, each rising to a crescendo and ending on a cliffhanger. The story is told MPOV, with even the uneducated preacher given a sympathetic voice. There's no violence, and although there's a lot of sex it's never explicit. The only death is that of the family's alcoholic father, which precedes and triggers the story's main action, and is counter-pointed by a birth, which will come afterwards.