After reading Ann Napolitano’s essay ” Dear Me ” in the Sunday New York Times, I was intrigued by her idea to write letters to her future self. Since her new novel has the salutation Dear Edward, I expected one of the characters in the novel to do the same – write letters to himself to be read in the future. i was wrong; letters do play a prominent role in the novel but from others to the main character, Edward.
In her novel, now on the bestseller list, Napolitano examines the coming of age of a twelve year old boy who is the lone survivor of an airplane crash. All other passengers (191) including his parents and older brother die. In her afterward, the author explains how she was inspired by a real story of a commercial flight from South Africa to London crashing in Libya in 2010 with only a nine year old boy surviving. Her survivor is Edward who is relocating with his parents from New York City to Los Angeles. Jane, his mother, is sitting in first class to finish the script of a movie she has been hired to edit, while Eddie is with his father and teenage brother in the back of the plane; Eddie has the window seat.
The reader knows early in the story about the crash and the author deftly maneuvers between the countdown to the inevitable in the plane cabin and Eddie’s new life with his aunt and uncle. Watching Eddie through his physical recovery, his metal anguish and survivor’s guilt, and his adjustment to his new life is not always easy but getting to know the passengers in first class with Eddie’s mother and in coach with his family has its merits, as long as you can forget they are all about to die. Eddie’s interaction with them is superfluous and fleeting yet their lives have a significant impact later when he receives letters from their relatives and friends.
Napolitano notes her writing is about “how we can make a meaningful life in the face of a devastating loss.” Her scenario is extreme but we probably all can relate to someone who has managed to survive the unexpected and carry on successfully with the new normal in their lives.
I still like Napolitano’s idea of writing to herself in the future; letters can be powerful in a world where they have been replaced by faster electronic communication. I may write a letter to my future self; I just hope I can remember where it is in five years.