The perks of the epistolary novel


I have read few books twice. There is only one I can think of I have read more than that: “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky.

There was something about the book that made me know it was important, even if I did not fully understand it the first time. Or the second time. Or even really the third time. I lent it to friends. I copied the poem Michael gave to Charlie. It was not until college, when discussing the book with my roommate that I finally understood the ending. Nevertheless, I digress from my theme of letters, which is why I brought up “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.”

The book is an epistolary novel, meaning, it is entirely told in letters.

“More intimate than a diary, Charlie’s letters are singular and unique, hilarious and devastating. We may not know where he lives. We may not know to whom he is writing. All we know is the world he shares,” writes Scholastic.org.

Granted, Charlie and his world are fictional, but the experiences he goes through are very realistic and relatable for so many teenagers, even if they only identify with one part of who he is.

Since he is writing letters to an anonymous person, we almost feel as though Charlie is writing to us. The first line Charlie writes is “I am writing to you because she said you listen and understand and didn’t try to sleep with that person at that party even though you could have.” If you are that person, maybe you understand. But then again, don’t most of us fit that description?

At some times the letters feel like a disconnected stream of consciousness, just like the way I sometimes write my letters. One paragraph talking about school, the next my plans for the weekend, the next talking about how I dislike so-and-so’s new significant other.

In “Aristotle’s Poetics for Screenwriters,” Michael Tierno writes about how explaining every detail of someone’s life would be a rather dull story. With Charlie’s letters, even though he sometimes writes about seemingly random events, he is really just highlighting parts of his life.

“The Perks of Being a Wallflower” is one story about Charlie trying to deal with his emotional issues though living rather passively. However, while each letter furthers this narrative, it also contains other short stories.

Another reason I believe the epistolary approach to the novel is a benefit to the story is it does not allow us to see outside of Charlie’s view. There is no switching to some omnipotent view. Even when we hear from others, it has been filtered through Charlie’s writing. Is that really what they said? We will never know.

This single viewpoint forces us to share in Charlie’s confusion and repressed memories. We know even less about Charlie’s life than he does. I think that is one of the reasons I felt I needed to reread the book. I was still puzzling through all the fragments of Charlie’s life.

Sadly, Charlie stops writing to his anonymous friend, so we are left to assume that he got busy participating. But I guess that is a good thing for him and I suppose the book had to end at some point.