Review: Love Letters by Shaun Locke

★★★½ Love Letters by Shaun M. Locke

In Love Letters by Shaun Locke, the narrator is one of the wordiest protagonists in English literature, and he’s supposed to be. After introducing himself through an archaic tide of words, the narrator’s strange and sordid tale begins.

The narrator’s words continue to stretch the mundane into obscenely long sentences as the story unfolds. He finds his daughter has beautifully mastered the art of curse words. He hits a cat on the way to see the mother of his child, but he can’t see the mother of his child because she is locked away in an asylum for women. He is a nymphomaniac, potentially a psychopath, and certainly a narcissist.

The beauty of this story is that it is so clearly told by an unreliable narrator. This mode of storytelling is complex and demanding, but Locke is definitely up to the task. Every perception of the narrator feels slightly off. He isn’t sure why the mother of his child has checked herself into an asylum predominantly filled with women recovering from abuse. As readers, we aren’t sure why either, but we do have our suspicions, and these suspicions grow as we see the narrator’s philandering and excessive sex drive in action. He isn’t above manipulating others to make his trysts possible, and he never second guesses the consequences of his needs.

Not even his young daughter can stand in the way of his drive. However, she does offer some valuable insight for readers. She serves as a moral compass for her father, despite – or maybe because – of her antithetical vocabulary. She is more concerned with actions than with words, and she makes no pretense of her disappointment, alarm, or pleasure, unlike her father.

To be certain, this is a challenging novel that has a strictly limited readership, but that is part of its charm. Not only is the narrator unapologetic, but the book itself is as well. A reader needs an outstanding vocabulary to make it past the first chapter, as well as extreme patience to climb through the grammatical maze of the protagonist’s thoughts. Some sentences are an expansive paragraph long, but the story is also well-told. It’s a novel that allows for slow progress, but every revelation provides great conversation fodder, especially for academics, linguists, and dedicated readers who will enjoy unpacking the complexity of the novel’s construction.

This verbose style doesn’t always work in the novel’s favor. Although there is nothing wrong with long sentences and advanced vocabulary, the narrator’s voice is so wordy that he obscures the plot and unfolding action a number of times throughout the story. Again, that’s an important element of his character, but it does make this work remarkably challenging. That said, the novel most definitely should be commended for taking so many chances. There aren’t many examples of such complex sentence structure in literature in the present moment, and certainly not in indie publishing, which is to the novel’s credit.

Overall, Love Letters does a fantastic job of creating a unique, unreliable narrator’s thoughts. Though it’s a difficult read, it’s a prime piece of work for careful analysis and discussion. If you’re up for the challenge, be ready for a bit of mystery and frustration along the way in this intelligent and compelling work of literary fiction.


Love Letters