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Ella Minnow Pea


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About the Author

Mark Dunn is the author of seven novels and more than thirty full-length plays. Belles and Five Tellers Dancing in the Rain have together received over 150 productions throughout the world, and Dunn has been the recipient of several national playwriting awards. Currently the playwright-in-residence with the New Jersey Repertory Company and the Community Theatre League in Williamsport, PA, he lives in Santa Fe, NM.


Adult/High School-With shades of Kurt Vonnegut, George Orwell, and William Pne du Bois, Ella Minnow Pea is delightfully clever from start to finish. It's set on Nollop, a fictional island off the coast of South Carolina named for its long-dead founder, Nevin Nollop, the "genius" who came up with "The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog." A huge cenotaph of Nollop's sentence stands over the town square-and one day, the "z" falls to the ground. Nollop's elected-for-life Council interprets this as a missive from beyond the grave, "that the letter `Z' should be utterly excised-fully extirpated-absolutely heave-ho'ed from our communal vocabulary!" Other letters soon follow, and the novel becomes progressively lipogrammatic (a "lipogram" being writing in which one or more letters are forbidden), told exclusively in the form of letters from one citizen to another as they struggle to adapt (a third offense means banishment). Not even the discovery that the glue holding the letters up is calcifying sways the zealots on the Council (perhaps Nollop intended its deterioration). It's decided that only the construction of another sentence that uses every alphabet letter in only 32 graphemes could discredit Nollop's "divine" word. Dunn plays his setup to the hilt, and the result is perfect for teens fond of wicked wit, wordplay, and stories that use the absurd to get at the serious.-Emily Lloyd, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Woe to the poor Nollopians. Some 100 years ago, they honored native son Nevin Nollop by erecting a statue of him, to which they affixed in tiles the sentence that made him famous: "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog." The islanders venerated language, and peace and harmony blessed them for decades upon decades. Then the unthinkable happens the tiles begin to fall one by one, first the z, then the q, and on and on and the island's sense of harmony begins to crumble like the glue holding up the tiles. The loss of the z is considered an ethereal message from Nollop, and the island councilors respond by voting to banish it from all communication and impose progressive penalties for its use. As the other letters fall and more proclamations come down, suspicion and dread grip the islanders, who turn inone another in for violating the orders. In the meantime, a small cadre of citizens works tirelessly to halt the devastation. As a fable, this book works exceedingly well. The story, made up entirely of correspondence, conjures up the same mounting tension and repression as in "The Lottery" or Fahrenheit 451. But playwright Dunn also stirs a lot of farce and comic relief into the story with his characterization and with the stilted formality of the official edicts. And, with the ever-diminishing lexicon, the letters get more creative with spelling, word choice, and juxtaposition: "It wasn't wise 4 a person to paint her whole selph. Thing apowt this phirst. Yew will see that it is not healthy. Also, please answer yor portal when I rap." If you're up to the deciphering task, you'll go on a merry romp in this book. Highly recommended. Lisa Nussbaum, Dauphin Cty. Lib. Syst., Harrisburg, PA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Playwright Dunn tries his hand at fiction in this "progressively lipogrammatic epistolary fable," and the result is a novel bursting with creativity, neological mischief and clever manipulation of the English language. The story takes place in the present day on the fictional island of Nollop off the coast of South Carolina, where over a century earlier, the great Nevin Nollop invented a 35-letter panagram (a phrase, sentence or verse containing every letter in the alphabet). As the creator of "the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog," Nollop was deified for his achievement. The island's inhabitants live an anachronistic existence, with letter-writing remaining the principal form of communication. Life seems almost utopian in its simplicity until letters of the alphabet start falling from the inscription on the statue erected in Nollop's honor, and the island's governing council decrees that as each letter falls, it must be extirpated from both spoken and written language. Forced to choose from a gradually shrinking pool of words, the novel's protagonists a family of islanders seek ways to communicate without employing the forbidden letters. A band of intrepid islanders forms an underground resistance movement; their goal is to create a shorter panagram than Nollop's original, thereby rescinding the council's draconian diktat. The entire novel consists of their letters to each other, and the messages grow progressively quirkier and more inventive as alternative spellings ("yesters" for "yesterday") and word clusters ("yellow sphere" for "sun") come to dominate the language. Dunn obviously relishes the challenge of telling a story with a contracting alphabet. Though frequently choppy and bizarre, the content of the letters can easily be deciphered, a neat trick that elicits smiles. Wordsmiths of every stripe will appreciate this whimsical fable, in which Dunn brilliantly demonstrates his ability to delight and captivate. (Oct. 1) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

"There's the whiff of a classic about Ella Minnow Pea." -The Christian Science Monitor

"A love letter to alphabetarians and logomaniacs everywhere." -Myla Goldberg

"A curiously compelling . . . satire of human foibles, and a light-stepping commentary on censorship and totalitarianism." -The Philadelphia Inquirer

"This exceptional, zany book will quickly make you laugh." -Dallas Morning Herald

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