Jenny (Reading Envy)'s Reviews > Letters from Max: A Book of Friendship

Letters from Max by Sarah Ruhl
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bookshelves: read2018, reviewcopy, small-press, epistolary, ebooks

"Study is a secular worship."

Sarah Ruhl is a theater professor; Max Ritvo was a poet who was also a student of hers when his cancer came back. They started a correspondence of startling intimacy and depth, one that near the beginning and at parts near the end, I doubted was real. Who talks like this? Who connects like this? Imagine a world where you could write to another person, and they would write back, about religion (and go deep), write poems to you and you could write them back, and both of you would have spouses who weren't jealous/concerned about the intimacy? This is a special relationship. Almost an unreal relationship. There were times I really questioned the veracity of the exchange, honestly.

Ruhl is a playwright, and is fantastic. I've actually seen one of her plays - In the Next Room (or the Vibrator Play) and she has an uncanny way of capturing depth in dialogue. I wondered if this could all be her. After all, Max is struggling through chemo and endless surgeries. Would he even have energy to write a one-sentence email much less an entire poem? (I have to say it took my breath away for a second when I realize he was put on the experimental drug my Dad was on for his cancer, which is made, as they discuss, of sea squirts.)

But Max Ritvo is a real person and a real poet. You can watch video of him performing while sick. I also read the posthumous volume of his poems prepared by his poetry professor, none other than Louise Glück. His first volume was award winning and much acclaimed, during his short lifetime (he died at 26.) So all I'm left to think is that this was a unique relationship of two people whose lives were improved enormously by knowing the other, that this is a meeting of minds and spirits, and I can only marvel at it. I suspect that is why Sarah and Max talked about publishing it before his death, thinking others would at last enjoy reading selected parts of the exchange. It is more through Sarah's eyes than Max's, because we only get commentary between the poems and letters from her and not from him.

I received a copy of this from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. It came out 18 September 2018.
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Reading Progress

October 9, 2018 – Started Reading
October 9, 2018 – Shelved
October 9, 2018 – Finished Reading
October 10, 2018 –
99.0% "10/9"
October 11, 2018 – Shelved as: read2018
October 11, 2018 – Shelved as: reviewcopy
October 11, 2018 – Shelved as: small-press
October 11, 2018 – Shelved as: epistolary
October 11, 2018 – Shelved as: ebooks

Comments Showing 1-3 of 3 (3 new)

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message 1: by Canadian (new)

Canadian Reader Very moving review, Jenny.

Jenny (Reading Envy) Canadian wrote: "Very moving review, Jenny."
Thank you. I am hoping more people I know read it because I feel like I need to reflect off of someone about it, to see what their reading experience is like.

message 3: by Canadian (new)

Canadian Reader Jenny (Reading Envy) wrote: "Canadian wrote: "Very moving review, Jenny."
Thank you. I am hoping more people I know read it because I feel like I need to reflect off of someone about it, to see what their reading experience is..."

I followed the link in your other review and watched a little of the poet’s performance. I read very little poetry, though I do have favourite poems and often preferred to write about poetry in university. I had never heard of Ritvo until reading your reviews. This book sounds intriguing.

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