Letter From Point Clear

by Dennis McFarland

Jane Austen to William Faulkner, the emotional and psychological
terrain of sibling relationships has provided a rich vein of
material for the writer's imagination. In LETTER FROM POINT CLEAR,
veteran novelist Dennis McFarland skillfully mines that vein in a
quiet and cogent work.

It’s been a year since Ellen and Morris Owen have seen their
younger sister Bonnie at the funeral of their father, a cold and
distant alcoholic who left his three children financially secure
and emotionally troubled. Roy Owen’s ashes sit in an urn on
the mantelpiece, “as if to call attention to the former
occupant’s subtly reduced status.” When Ellen receives
a letter from Bonnie, announcing her marriage to a fundamentalist
minister whose parents prophetically have named him
“Pastor,” she decides it’s time for her and
Morris to leave their summer homes on Cape Cod and visit their
childhood home in Point Clear, Alabama, on the Mobile Bay, where
Bonnie has lived since caring for their father in his final
illness. Both are skeptical that Bonnie, a failed actress whose
life has been marred by drug use, has undergone the religious
conversion she so joyously announces. At the same time, the older
siblings know they must deal with unresolved issues over the final
division of Roy’s legacy.

When Ellen and Morris arrive in Point Clear they meet
Bonnie’s new husband, a charismatic minister several years
her junior. He has never attended a seminary, and his
qualifications for the ministry are virtually nonexistent. But he
has taken on the leadership of the 700 families who comprise the
Church of the Blessed Hunger and is about to launch a building fund
for the church’s new Christ Center, a lavish structure that
will feature two basketball courts and a full-size stage. The
Massachusetts Owens are suspicious that their sister’s
newfound love has as much to do with her financial resources as it
does with true compatibility.

Bonnie has kept secret from Pastor the fact that Morris is gay and
is involved in a committed relationship. When the minister
discovers this, he launches a campaign to change Morris’s
sexual orientation, even going so far as to enlist the aid of one
of his congregants who had undergone such a
“conversion.” It’s an endeavor that is as sincere
as it is wrongheaded, and the dinner scene where it reaches its
climax is both humorous and poignant.

While it's somewhat lacking in dramatic plot developments --- one
of the most compelling involves one character's encounter with a
jellyfish --- the strength of McFarland’s novel lies in the
small but thoroughly engaging cast of characters who populate it.
Early in the book, Morris observes that he “[has] a fairly
fairly firm grasp of what’s good about people. I can’t
help it if their faults are more interesting than their
virtues.” That comment might serve as the touchstone of
McFarland’s writing --- all of the characters in the novel
receive the kind of attention from the author that elevates them
above the status of caricature and into the realm of fully-realized
human beings.

LETTER FROM POINT CLEAR stands head and shoulders above the typical
beach read, but anyone savoring it under an umbrella with a fresh
breeze blowing off the ocean will have no trouble bringing to mind
the vividly portrayed settings of the story. More a rich slice of
life than a novel that neatly resolves the conflicts pulsing subtly
but insistently through its pages, it is nevertheless a satisfying
effort to grapple with the dynamics of family love in all its
infinite depth and complexity.


Reviewed by Harvey Freedenberg ( on December 30, 2010

Letter From Point Clear
by Dennis McFarland

  • Publication Date: August 7, 2007
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
  • ISBN-10: 0805077669
  • ISBN-13: 9780805077667