EM Keeler, Bookside Table, Selected Busines Correspondence

When I met with Andrew Kaufman in his office to talk about book design for something I wrote for the Toronto Standard,  I kept pawing at this book on his shelf.  I almost stopped the interview so I could read it on the spot, and then he kindly took the hint and offered to lend it to me.

Selected Business Correspondence  is a collection of (extremely) short stories printed as letters on vintage letterheads. “We Assure You of Our Best Intentions” is one of my favorites, partially because of the tricky onsided-ness of these letters, and partially because of the strange name for the business involved: Hanger Standard Limb Company. The letters in this story are from the manager, David Harris) of this bizarre place of work, and are in response to complaints registered by one Roger Sales. Roger has recently acquired a prosthetic leg, and his initial discomfort with this new extension of his body grows increasingly poetic (according to Harris) and dire. Like many of the employees at Hanger Standard Limb, Harris is an amputee and relies on a prosthetic; based on this common trait, he feels a certain fraternity with Sales, and when his correspondent tries to convince him of a rather peculiar plight he is a consummate professional. It turns out that Mr. Sales’ body is regrowing its own leg gradually over the scaffolding provided by the prosthetic, though Mr. Harris refuses to believe it.

The amazing thing is that Kaufman sets it up so that you, the reader, can’t help but feel that Harris is wrong, that this seemingly impossible thing must’ve actually happened! Harris’ letters are initially so warm and flattering that you almost wish he were writing to you, and by the end of the story you feel as if he has been. How terrible to be called a liar, to have accidentally offended a man who had been so kind trough the sheer unlikelihood of the extraordinary circumstances in which you find yourself.

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Selected Business Correspondence is available from the Book Bakery.

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