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Book Review: Dear Mr. You

Dear Mr. You cover

Dear Mr. You comes as a revelation – actually, one revelation after another. Mary-Louise Parker’s book of memoiristic letters to some of the men in her life reads like a collection of first-rate short stories, varied in mood and tone but united by a perspective comprising gratitude, forgiveness, courage, and humor. Parker lives intensely and sees acutely; she has a warrior’s determination and a poet’s insight. I found myself reading this mesmerizing album of portraits like poetry, in fact: only a few letters at a sitting, the better to savor their resonances.

Parker recounts transforming episodes with some of her male heroes, among them a movement teacher, her acting mentor, the family priest (“who believed in God and still liked him”), the no-nonsense accountant who taught her how money works, the beekeeper next-door, and a former child soldier from Uganda. She depicts love affairs in all their ambivalence and fluctuating passions, and commemorates her most awful romantic relationships in an epistle to Cerberus, the mythical three-headed dog at the maw of Hell. She speculates about the hard-drinking Grandpa she never knew, and relives the relinquishment of her father’s body after his death. He was a three-war veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder who punched holes in the wall, and she misses him too profoundly to convey: “It would be like blue trying to describe the ocean.”

Here is the worst imaginable encounter between a pregnant woman and a New York City cabdriver with no idea where he’s going, here, a wishful meditation for a newborn baby boy. Here, even a note of apology to NASA “for repeatedly stating that you were a massive misuse of tax dollars and basically an oversized playground for those who like to wear antigravity suits.” She then admits (as men so rarely do), “I didn’t know what I was talking about.”

Parker’s recollections evoke the very nature of memory, their potent images never too fully limned, never lingering over the emotions they incite. Dear Mr. You reminds us what a glorious business life can be even at its worst, if you can tug it into the right frame of view. It makes me hope that my young son might grow up to be the sort of fellow worthy of a letter from someone the caliber of Mary-Louise Parker. I cannot imagine anyone worth knowing who would not fall in love with the shimmering vision at the core of this masterful book.