By Michael Kimball
Michael Kimball's Dear Everybody tells the story of Jonathan Bender, a depressed weatherman who commits suicide. The tale unfolds largely through the letters Jonathan wrote but never sent to all the people he ever knew, covering ground beginning with his conception (a mistake) and chronicling a rocky childhood overshadowed by an abusive father. But there always seem to be two versions of events: as Kimball pits interviews with the people who knew Jonathan against Jonathan's own account, we are left to question whose version is correct—and whether understanding the reasons for Jonathan's death will make it any less tragic.
Jonathan's motivation behind the letters seems to be bewilderment: at his torment at the hands of other kids while growing up, at his family's dysfunction, at his father's hatred. As the family falls apart, Jonathan turns to women in college, finding modicums of relief in haphazard and doomed relationships. As is the case with many tragic protagonists, Jonathan searches for acceptance through others instead of trying to find it within—and Kimball makes no attempt at hiding the cliché: "I know that I shouldn't have asked you to move in with me on our first date, but I was depressed...and I needed somebody to replace Amanda," Jonathan writes to a potential girlfriend. Even as Jonathan marries, and fulfills his dream of becoming a weatherman, he still cannot shake the damaging specter of his past. His ex-wife eulogizes, "I tried to bring him back to himself and to me and to our marriage, but eventually I didn't know where to look for Jonathan inside Jonathan's mind."
Even as Jonathan's wife can no longer locate the man she married, Jonathan had lost himself long before: through her, Kimball points out that Jonathan's version may be merely fabrication, complicating the problem of perspective even further. Although Kimball's writing flourishes in the despondent and resigned voice of a man at the end of his rope, painting a sadly beautiful picture of a childhood and life unrealized, at times the melancholic tone is overbearing and creates a rather morbid read.