The True and Outstanding Adventures of the Hunt Sisters by Elisabeth Robinson. I found it in an empty bathroom at the Anchorage airport, where I had a layover last week. It was sitting on the sink with a boarding pass sticking out of the front; the owner had landed in Anchorage a few hours ago, so I figured that she had left the security area and wasn’t going to come back for her book. Her name was also Alice.
In a nutshell, the main character is a high-strung Hollywood producer whose sister has leukemia. The story is told entirely through letters, a format that I normally loathe intensely. This book also has a lot of frivolity and humor, which I usually don’t like to read. But I liked it from the beginning because the characters say a lot of things about love and family and emotions that are profound but very simple, so simple that nobody puts them in books anymore, but they nonetheless need to be read. It wasn’t until halfway through the book that I realized what this book was really about, the themes coming together. (As the main character says about making a movie, “the end is in the beginning”; the entire story is there from the first scene. You just haven’t discovered it yet.)
I have been looking for a long time for a book like this, a book about hope that is realistic but doesn’t leave you in despair or resignation. I’ve read a lot of sad books about illness and loss that throw their reader into the depths of grief and leave them there, or rise slowly and sadly out of the ashes. This novel does neither. It taught me something about hope.
Upon further thought, I think the reason why I like this book so much is because it is very much like the best children’s novels– dealing profoundly with very simple themes, every emotion and theme distilled, unclouded with the complications and rationalizations that usually encircle adult literary fiction. I love children’s books because they do these things so well, but there are some subjects that are never tackled in children’s books, such as marriage and work. It is wonderful to see these themes written into a novel with the clarity that adult novels so often lack, and I wish to see it more often.
“I was arguing with my mother about false hope the other day. I said hope is neither false nor true but a kind of happiness itself, a fuel that carries us towards our dreams. You feel better when you’re knee-deep in hope for something, whether it’s for the love of someone, for a promotion, for a baby, for a clean bill of health.”