Dear Ms. You,
Hey, Mary-Louise Parker, you’re a killer actress, you’ve hit fifty, and you’ve written a funny, clever, genuinely moving book, Dear Mr. You. You took a form, the epistolary novel, mashed it up with another form, the celebrity memoir, and turned them both on their heads. Thirty-four intimate letters to various “Mr. You’s” collectively demonstrate you’ve lived many lives. All the letters are to men, but of course they really serve to reveal … Mary-Louise Parker.
“I don’t believe in endings, happy or sad,” you address your correspondents, “so my relationships with you continue to this day.” You have terrific recall of the past, the great expanse of it, and it is bracingly present for you. You make it come alive for the reader, too.
Some of your most powerful, soulful writing is about your father, a war veteran who once bought you a diamond ring, ate oysters on his death bed and was apparently the greatest guy in the world. “To convey in any existing language how I miss you isn’t possible,” you write. “It would be like blue trying to describe the ocean.” You tell of his death: “I rotated in a broken waltz in that hateful sunlight which clearly had no idea what it would never shine on again.”
In another engaging missive you write to a young man named Blue, a barefoot, loincloth-wearing fruitarian coworker at a food coop who pelts you with flowers and teaches you a thing or two about sweetness. “You were right there and I was afraid of how real you were, which made me question my own level of authenticity.” Again, it is about you, not Blue, about your own adolescent struggle. Blue is just the medium. You are the message.