Dear Wes Anderson,
A few days ago I was sitting in a bar across the street from my house, listening to one of my former professors read poetry. Right before I graduated a few months ago he’d been diagnosed with cancer and had to pull a fast fade on the day of our final reading, which sort of stung us, to be honest, but cancer>complaints.
The point was I think we were all pretty curious what he’d read this past Sunday, what he’d been doing, what he’d been writing. He’d grown a fucking giant beard, but that was all we knew.
Alongside reading a lot about the food he’d been eating and the dogs he’d been walking and cancer and the desert, he read a lot about this book — this book that’s not about you, Wes, but it is about the people that wrote it, who I know, and who my professor knows. My professor read writing he’d written about what it was like being friends with these people, being writing peers, being envious and overwhelmed by their success.
I mean, something like that. It’s what it sounded like to me.
The point I’m getting at Wes, is that there’s always someone outside-looking-in. At the start of this book, it feels like Feliz, Ben, and Brett are outside, trying to access you; by the end, they are assuredly inside, accessing each other and themselves.
It’s impossible for me to write this like a real review, Wes. I knew Ben and Feliz and Brett the whole time they wrote this book, and probably the main thoughts I had about it in that time was that it sounded kind of more gimmicky than I thought they would have ever let themselves be, and also that I wished I’d been invited to write it with them. But I also wished, years later, that my professor would write a poem about me being his peer, or that he’d have come to my final reading. Comme ci, comme ça, Wes. There’s always an outside/inside.
I’ll tell you this, though. Of the three authors, I know Feliz the least. I think for most of our acquaintance we’ve mainly tried not to argue with each other too loudly at parties. Feliz’s is the preeminent voice here — I won’t hazard guesses about who did what kinds of work in the production of the book entire, but in terms of pure words-on-page it’s Feliz that’s guiding us, finding the book’s balance, performing the outsideness of writing to you and the insideness of divulging things about herself, of reaching out to Ben and to Brett in her letters.
To be honest, Wes, I’m going to guess it’s more likely that Feliz reads these notes about her than it is you read her notes about you. To be more honest, I actually have a feeling this book will eventually find its way to you, so to edit my prior statement, I’ll say that while I think everyone is going to eventually read everyone else’s everything with regard to The Wes Letters, I think it’s more likely that what I write here will get read first.
With that in mind, I’m going to pause in my letter to you and write to Feliz for a minute.
I think the story/letters/section of book you’ve crafted here is really very beautiful. I don’t feel like I know you very well, but getting to know you here was a lovely thing.
Ben and Brett, who I do think I know pretty well, chime in less on-the-page: Ben and Feliz begin with two distinct voices and eventually seem to merge, so that I’d often skip ahead to figure out whose voice I should be assigning to each letter. Perhaps that’s destroying some element of intent, but everything is so meta at this stage, with me and with this book, that Wes I really think you should just kind of back off with the directionality here. Just let me do this my own way.
As I was saying — Ben’s voice, often dismissive and anecdotal but still centered and warm, stands in opposition to Feliz’s more personal and emotionally wrought letters. Feliz’s letters seem to use every rhetorical trick to evoke an actual response, or failing that, a gut reaction. Ben seems more amused by the idea of writing to you as a constraint, which is in keeping with what I know of him “for reals.” Eventually, Feliz’s urgency wears off, as she deciphers what it means to write to you, before seeming to lose herself again in the book’s final pages, which take place somewhere between Helsinki and the Swiss Alps.
Brett’s inclusions are more like interjections; it may be that his main function in this text was to meet you, Wes — to be the Kevin Bacon holding the theoretical framework of the book together. In practice, his written contributions are sporadic, and seem less like letters and more like what he happened to be writing in the time the book was written. If you meet Brett (again) Wes, I’ll posit that you will be least surprised by the difference between Brett OTP and Brett IRL. It’s an apt transference.
I’m writing all this like you don’t know it already, Wes — but the truth is that if you ever find this book review, you’ll probably have already read this book, and met these people (for the first or second time). Feliz’s suggestions for what you might eventually say to them seem believable and accurate, although I know you even less than they do.
But the funny thing is that you really are a guy who it seems like I/we/they already know — I honestly hadn’t even thought of it until this paragraph, but this whole writing-to-you thing comes pretty easy. I know what your movies look like, and you helped me appreciate The Who. What else is there, right?
I’m sorry, Wes. It’s just the cult of American celebrity that makes me flippant with you. I liked this book more than I’ve liked most of your movies, except for Rushmore, which I saw a few years after I’d ended a short affair with one of my high school teachers. I never thanked you for that — for making a film that spoke to me on such a specific level, at a time when I really needed it.
So thank you for that, Wes. I mean it. She was my first love, and that ain’t easy gettin’ over.
Keith McCleary is the author of the graphic novels Killing Tree Quarterly and Top of the Heap, and The Gothickers, an audio novella written with Sophia Starmack. His work has previously appeared in Heavy Metal, theNewerYork, and Weave, as well as other print and online journals. He holds an MFA from UC San Diego.
The featured image “Dear You” is by Mandy Brown; it’s a still from the indiegogo campaign video for The Wes Letters.