In Papritz’s debut novel, a dying father delivers bittersweet words of wisdom in a series of letters to his unborn children.
The story’s unnamed narrator was recently diagnosed with a terminal illness and given seven months to live. He’s also estranged from his wife, who’s pregnant with his twins. He doesn’t want to endanger the pregnancy, so he keeps his illness a secret from her and retires to a mountain cabin. There, he writes the letters that make up this book—a guidebook for the twins about love, loss, childhood, growing up and everything in between. Some of the letters are bubbly and optimistic, extolling the virtues of first kisses and autumn days; others are melancholy and pensive, revealing the narrator’s pain at leaving the world—and his family—too soon. Papritz’s writing overflows with folksy hyperbole, which can be both an asset and a burden. Some readers may roll their eyes at such over-the-top language as “Cause a conniption and a bucketful of mischief. Dance a monkey-doodle.” Often, however, the author’s knack for unusual phrasing makes for fresh, arresting images, as when the narrator writes, “I gather the last remnants of the evening’s breeze, so cool and lazy within my arms, feeling it curl up like a small and innocent kitten.” The novel’s plot is wispy, at best; there’s very little information about the conflict with his wife or the details of his illness, and those looking for a driving story won’t find it here. As a collection of short essays, however, the book is deeply immersive, and it has a strong sense of atmosphere that renders such narrative details hardly necessary. The narrator’s feelings—about the life he’s lived and the death he faces—come off as authentic, and readers will enjoy following him through it. (The author has also published a longer version called The Legacy Letters Complete, which includes audio recordings of the songs that the narrator writes for his children.)
A touching compendium of down-home guidance, short on plot but emotionally potent.