A mostly lighthearted tweaking of literary sensibilities, playwright Dunn’s first novel gets good mileage from a simple notion: People can carry hero worship way too far.
The hero in question is Nevin Nollop, “inventor” of the well-known pangram “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” The tiny island of Nollop, off the South Carolina coast, is an independent nation devoted to the preservation of his memory and achievement—devoted, that is, until the letters start falling from the sentence on the man’s monument, one by one. A series of notes and letters from citizens of this highly literate nation, particularly Ella and Tassie, two young cousins who are members of the Minnow Pea family, records the actions of the island’s ruling council, which decides that the fallen letters (and the words that contain them) are meant to be removed from Nollop’s vocabulary. “Z” goes first, followed by “Q” and a quick succession of others; each of the fallen is treated as were its predecessors, with a “three strikes and you’re out” penalty imposed on any Nollopians who fail to make the required adjustments. This creates severe hardship for the islanders, who begin to leave voluntarily or by penalty; life comes to a virtual standstill for those who remain. A young journalist from the mainland arrives in secret to appeal to the reason of the sole council member who still seems to have any, and before he’s unmasked and deported he both plants a seed of hope and steals Tassie’s heart. But it’s on the shoulders of Ella, brave Ella, that the burden of rescuing the island from its madness ultimately falls.
Cleverness is the hook with this little fable—those delighting in wordplay will be duly rewarded by seeing language stretched to its limits.