I have saved the best for last to end Small Book Appreciation Week. When the idea struck me for this quirky little theme for a week of reviews I already had a number of books picked out to review and a few to read. But while at the book store looking for something else The End of the Alphabet by C.S. Richardson caught my eye.
It had all the things that trap me: well designed cover, interesting plot hook, novella length, etc. This slim little book turned out to be a minor masterpiece; a thoroughly enjoyable story that you simply didn’t want to put down. Luckily at 139 pages you can read it in one sitting. But like many good books you almost didn’t want it to end.
The story follows Ambrose Zephyr and his wife Zappora (Zipper) Ashkenazi in the aftermath of his diagnosis with a fatal disease that leaves him only 30 days to live. Since a very young child, and as the son of a newspaper man who played with printing blocks, Ambrose has been fascinated with travel and the alphabet. He has collected travel brochures and dreamed of travel to far away places. He decides the use his remaining time to visit these places – or as many as he can – and immediately makes up a alphabetized list.
His wife – they have no children – is not so sure this is the best response but out of love for him agrees to go. What follows is their attempts at coming to peace with themselves, their relationship, and the tragedy that has befallen them. Describing it, you might think it corny or maudline, etc. But it is none of those things.
I really can’t describe it any better that the Washington Post review (no longer online):
The surprise of this little book is not that it is poignant but that it is delightful: graceful, stylish, humorous, intelligent and lacking even the faintest whiff of sanctimony. Each page shimmers with life at its gentle, everyday best: always unraveling at one end of the alphabet or the other, laced with love.
A couple of things stand out. One is the amazing way the author captures Ambrose and Zipper and their relationship with so few words. He has a way of quickly sketching their personalities – the quirks, the likes and dislikes, the mindset – and weaving them into their lives that paints a picture in the readers mind. The story is short but it doesn’t feel thin.
The other thing that is enjoyable is the artful balancing of emotions. Richardson seems to hit just the right notes with grace and style. It is artful without being artsy; poignant without being maudlin; humorous without being corny. This is a challenge in a story about impending death. But it isn’t only about death obviously, but about life, art, love, and home.
Amazingly, Richardson – a respected and award winning book desinger in Canada – is a first time novelist. I have to say that he has set the bar very high for himself for his second book.
The End of the Alphabet is one of those rare gems that comes along and reminds you why you love reading. I would highly recommend it to anyone.