Letters from Max: A Book of Friendship

Sarah Ruhl and Max Ritvo. Milkweed, $26 (316p) ISBN 978-1-57131-369-0
In this moving and erudite collection of letters spanning several years, playwright Ruhl (100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write) and poet Ritvo (Four Reincarnations) meditate on aesthetics and literature, death and the afterlife, and faith and knowledge, before Ritvo’s death from cancer at age 25. Theirs began as a student-teacher relationship in 2012 when Ritvo signed up for Ruhl’s class at Yale, but quickly moved into one of mutual admiration and understanding. Ritvo’s reflections on mortality are devastating and lyrical; he wrote in a poem, “The jungle of my short life is one row of white straight naked trees.” His willingness to grapple with his fear of death is brave; his argument in favor of the soul’s existence trenchant. The two conduct spirited exchanges on postmodernism, Tibetan Buddhism, and vegetarianism. Ritvo transforms the quotidian into the profound, explaining his appreciation for soup, “the food that most allows your mouth to approximate silence.” The letters, and Ruhl’s guiding editorial commentary, trace Ritvo’s biography, from his graduation from Columbia to his wedding and the publication of his first book, along with endless medical ordeals. Ruhl draws a comparison between their correspondence and that between poets Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop, and indeed, with the depth and intelligence displayed, one feels in the presence of literary titans. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 07/23/2018
Release date: 09/01/2018
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