My First Five Years at Sea author John Tabor returns to the sea in his sophomore outing, Letters to Bizzy, and it is delicious! Where the first novel, true to title, covered half a decade of nautical rambling across the seven seas, Letters to Bizzy remains comfortably beach-side, on a North Carolina barrier island as the writer of the eponymous letters recounts the history of his beloved Bouge Banks in the first half of the 20th century.
The setup for Letters is simple enough, an old woman has died and while clearing her house, her son finds a box of unopened letters in the attic. Curious, he takes them home, intending to open and read them. The ensuing novel deals primarily in the letters’ contents, though we do occasionally bounce back to the son and his reactions to said letters.
The astute reader could find an overarching plot if they wanted to string one together, but on the whole Letters reads more like a series of vignettes than anything else, and each snapshot of island life is charming as all get out. Whether letter writer Robert Guthrie is recounting the story of a hat going on trial, tales of catering to the vagaries of the island’s resident cranky rich matron, or describing what may or may not have been a Nazi infiltrated poker game, there is an intense love for the island and its residents that permeates Tabor’s every word.
Island life is not always easy; there are hurricanes to weather, distant wars that creep in close to home, and outsiders’ constant threat to the long-cherished island mentality, but through the eyes and words of our narrator all of that recedes into just more anecdotes from a colorful life well lived.
Written with an ear toward regional dialect, and an obvious intimate familiarity with the North Carolina coast, its history, and the people who make it special, Letters to Bizzy slips by as easy as an ocean-side afternoon. Funny at times, heartbreaking at others, I can only be grateful that Tabor gave me the chance to spend a little time on Bogue Banks with Robert and his neighbors; hours spent with them isn’t time I’ll forget any time soon.