The Letter Left to Me

by Joseph McElroy

Edition History

Written by a father to a son almost three years before the father’s death, the letter comes to light a few days after the funeral. A gift that is overwhelming when the boy first opens the envelope, his father’s sober words warn him against life’s distractions. If grief conditions how we are to judge the letter and understand the now absent father himself, the real story is what happens to the letter, the disturbing and quite bizarre process by which it is taken over by the family and disseminated to their friends and even to strangers. Yet the letter becomes a point of departure and a core of opportunity from which the son begins to take action in his own way. The mysterious work of the book is to evoke both the chaos and the direction of this growth: the son letting things happen; his insights trapped but aroused by the family language, in which grief and love disguise control and possessiveness.

The Letter Left to Me is alive with the creative force of a young man struggling toward the heart of the matter, finding more than his father, beginning to see himself. Thus, the letter that has been found only to be given away is remade into unforeseen knowledge.

Reviews for The Letter Left to Me

Sheila Ballantine New York Times Book Review 1988,
... A hypnotic novel. Mr. McElroy has released a private mystery into the realm of universal quest.