The Wes Letters By Feliz Lucia Molina, Ben Segal and Brett Zehner
Published 2014 by Outpost19 | San Francisco
$16.00 paperback ISBN 9781937402648
The Wes Letters is an epistolary novel, or more simply: a collection of letters addressed to the famed film director, Wes Anderson. These letters are penned by three friends – Brett, Ben and Feliz – a trio of artists/grad students, quirky and neurotic. The story begins when Brett meets Wes Anderson on a train moving through New Mexico but expands into something unexpected. And from that moment—a discussion of literature between sips of wine—a story unfolds. It’s a language-driven story that travels first across the US—by train, plane and bus—from the Midwest to San Diego, until finally ending in Finland’s Bear Forest. Ultimately, it’s a story that isn’t really about Wes Anderson at all.
Wes Letters is a chronicling of musings and imaginations. It’s absurdly funny (they consider breaking into Anderson’s home to steal his toothbrushes, asking him to help paint their apartment, celebrity therapy by way of Snoop Dogg/ Lion, “Moonrise Condom,” etc.), somewhat confessional, and, at times, deeply personal. It’s a mix of self-reflection and philosophical meditation. It’s an evaluation of changing technologies, multiple media platforms, celebrity/recognition, and the general state of the modern world and how we project ourselves into it. It’s also about traveling and place (physical and emotional), loss and connection—“writing to you calms me because the further I type the more real you become,” writes Feliz. Wes Anderson is the constant and is what keeps readers grounded, even though he never actually responds. He is the “black hole” into which they confide their deepest thoughts and memories: “I am specifically writing these letters to forget, or to replace memory with stories, shifting sand and perhaps some magic,” says Brett. Rather than losing their most intimate thoughts into the void that is “Dear Wes,” we are on the other end, listening and understanding the pain of remembering and what it means to forget/be forgotten.
A novel as personal letters reflects a sort of realism, and it helps that the authors’ first names match those of the three narrators, which verges on a kind of “collective memoir.” The epistolary style is unique to each narrator, and perhaps that’s a nod to Anderson’s own distinct narrative and visual style in filmmaking. It’s also written as stream of consciousness. I particularly loved the story’s vividness, the precision and intensity of language, especially in Brett’s hybrid letter/poems. The sound sensations he creates are incredible, almost haunting (for some examples, read entries: “AIR SPACE,” “CHICAGO,” “INSOMNIA,” “MIDWEST,” and “SNAG.”).
Memory and place are key motifs in this novel. Memories were strewn together anxiously, brilliantly fragmented, offering a fracturing of time. The two year timeframe in this novel is easily tracked through events, technology, and thanks to Feliz, by specific dates/hours/minutes. But most striking about Wes Letters are the darker, private moments – the poignant glimpses of fragile humanity, most often revealed through Brett’s letters. I’ll not forget the memory of his dying friend, Eddie, the memory of his grandfather (a man with a “6-minute memory loop”) triggered by a bus ride, and the section about his mother’s brain cancer. The results are breathtaking imagery, language and emotion: “In the sunshine I forget to miss people,” Brett says.
This novel is also about writers/writing. Oftentimes the narrators are too critical of themselves, but that’s something I (and any other writer) could relate to. “Too scattered perhaps, not enough of a cohesion,” Brett writes in his final entry: “LOCATION SCOUT AND TENTATIVE ENDING,” but I disagree. These three perspectives are collectively strong because the stories elegantly entangle themselves, creating cohesion. The structure also lends to that cohesion because it keeps everything together in a neat framing device. One could argue that the story lacks plot, an arc, but they address some of these “faults” throughout (and who says we need any of that?). Brett even defines the reasoning behind it all: “I just feel that location, and the assembled relationships between interiority, is what matters most to me at this point.” At one point he describes himself as without character, that he is just “settings and moods,” which I thought summed up perfectly how Wes Letters is written.
On the other hand, I believe that there is character development. Readers get to their cores; we understand them by the memories they choose to share. Their stories are relatable, not isolating. Anderson-haters and non-writers alike can enjoy this novel because it speaks to our generation, a generation of ambitious and creative types, as well as a universal feeling of anxiety and despair. I think, too, that Wes Letters might be saying that life isn’t like a Wes Anderson movie; there are no “happy solutions.” Life is “about what makes us weep. The molecular emotions. The little accumulations. All those repeated rememberings…placeholders,” Brett says. It is a story about forgetting (or replacing, rewriting) memories, but it is also a story about remembering and being memorable. I think that’s something all of us can identify with, which is why the journey we take with them is unforgettable.