Alice Walker’s The Color Purple (1983)
Women’s Press, 1984 

Celie begins writing letters to God because the man who is married to her mother has said that’s all who will listen, all who should be bothered with listening.

(It’s just wrong to call him her father, after he has raped and abused her, but some might say that — biologically, technically — he is her father.)

So that’s how this Pulitzer Prize winning novel begins. With “Dear God”.

And if the horrors of Celie’s abuse, or the idea of reading a Pulitzer winner, or the letters to God, or anything at all, has put you off reading this novel (maybe thinking it must be high-brow or hard to read), strike out your anxieties.

From Celie’s first letter to her last, The Color Purple is an engaging epistolary novel.

(This is my third reading, although the first reading is lost to memory; the second and third were alike in that I expected to read maybe fifty pages and raced through the entire novel and, oh, the ending, I just wept. Both times. Even knowing. Because it’s just the “right” ending: you know how that is?)

The fact that Celie isn’t censoring her letters makes these particularly interesting for the reader. She figures God already knows everything anyway, right? So she has no reason to slant her view.

And, what makes them even more interesting is that Celie doesn’t talk much. She’s the quiet type (for a variety of reasons), so you feel, as the reader, as though you understand things that others do not. In particular, Celie herself.

And even though you are just peering over the shoulder of the letter-writer, you can see that things are changing, and that’s invigorating.

For instance, Celie’s style of writing changes dramatically though the novel. Most obviously, the letters get longer, as she feels increasingly comfortable writing, but they change in other ways too.

Even in their roughest form, however, her style is evocative.

“Harpo nearly as big as his daddy. He strong in body but weak in will. He scared.
Me and him out in the field all day. Us sweat, chopping and plowing. I’m roasted coffee bean color now. He black as the inside of a chimney. His eyes be sad and thoughtful. His face begin to look like a woman face.
Why you don’t work no more? he ast his daddy.
No reason for me to. His daddy say. You here, ain’t you? He say this nasty. Harpos feeling be hurt.
Plus, he still in love.”

The characters in this novel take shape in Celie’s letters with alacrity. Nettie and Shug and Sofia and Squeak and Harpo and Mr. ______. (And others, but no spoilers here.)

The power dynamics between them shift, sometimes slightly, as skin colours throughout the summer months like Celie describes, sometimes dramatically.

It’s about living in the deep South of the United States. It’s about living between the wars. It’s about all of that.

But, it’s also about forging bonds personally – particularly between blood sisters, between chosen sisters — and finding pleasure, love, and security in unexpected places.

And it’s all told in letters. Which fits my Friday Fugue — and my intention to reread a dozen books — this year, perfectly.

Have you read this? Do you mean to? Have you reread a favourite book lately? I’d love it if you wrote me a little letter below to tell me.