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Four’s a Crowd   Leave a comment

I was baffled by Emma Hooper’s Etta and Otto and Russell and James. It’s sweet but confusing. It’s a love story that considers lost chances and perhaps poor decisions. It’s also surprisingly descriptive in its brevity.

Etta is 83 years old when she embarks on a trek across Canada to the ocean. The five-sentence letter she leaves as explanation to her husband sets the tone for the novel: “Otto, I’ve gone. I’ve never seen the water, so I’ve gone there. Don’t worry, I’ve left you the truck. I can walk. I will try to remember to come back.”

This isn’t the kind of thing she’s planned, she simply leaves to see the coast. Briefly, Otto considers trying to find her. Ultimately, it’s Russell who does so, while Otto remains on the farm.

Along her trek, Etta gains unwanted attention from the media and towns people she encounters. She also acquires a companion in James, a source of bewilderment.

The relationships among the four title characters are complex. Otto and Russell have known each other since childhood. Both love Etta. Hooper develops the bond between Etta and Otto through letters the pair exchanged during the war. Their correspondence evolves from the mundane to the heartfelt.

Hooper intersperses the characters’ backstories with their present day adventures: Etta bound for the sea, Russell in search of Etta and Otto discovering daily rhythms on his own. Meanwhile, there’s James, who’s difficult to describe. Hooper has crafted a terse novel unpredictably rich with humor and longing.

Etta and Otto and Russell and James
Almost Four Bookmarks
Simon & Schuster, 2015
305 pages

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