Monday, December 22, 2008

The Letters (Hoochee Book Club)

Chattahoochee Mama decided to start an online book club, and you know me, I always enjoy reading and discussing books. So, the first ever Hoochee Book Club pick was The Letters by Luanne Rice and Joseph Monninger. The story is told through a series of letters sent between an estranged husband and wife (Sam and Hadley) who are dealing with the loss of their only child (Paul).

I thoroughly enjoyed this quick read and freely admit to loving the letter format. I do believe that for some it is easier to express emotions in writing rather than verbally (I am one of those). In Hadley and Sam's situation, this is particularly true as they are wary of revealing too much of their selves, their vulnerability.

Sometimes while reading, I questioned which author was writing. Did Rice only write Hadley's letters to Sam? Some parts of Sam's letters seemed to express emotions in a way that I found hard to believe a man could write. I am not saying it's impossible; I'm familiar with Shakespeare. Still, from a letter dated November 18 "...when I came back you were there at the campsite, and the sun was behind you, and you didn't see me for a second and I watched how beautifully you moved, how you had such purpose and calm, and you had cut an enormous bouquet of black-eyed Susans and arranged them in an old coffee tin sitting on the table. You had collected the flowers for no other reason except that you appreciated beauty, just beauty, and returning to you that way, coming toward the camp, I felt out of breath at the sight of you." (Cue the Take My Breath Away song from Top Gun... watching in slow motion...). I have known men who have had thoughts like this, but I think they are probably few and far between. Hadley did mention that "Other women complain their husbands don't talk; that was never the case with Sam." So, perhaps he was just meant to be characterized as one of the few. Still, it would be interesting to know how the writing collaboration was done.

The characters were very real to me, especially Hadley (probably because I am a woman and mother). When she writes about going to the Abbey in Kentucky and feeling that a monk "who'd felt the pull of desire...would understand a young mother who adored her husband and son more than air and sunshine, yet needed to escape those bonds for a time," I was thinking, "Write it, sister, Amen!" Sam, when writing about dog sledding, really hit on a feeling that I think a lot of people have: "It is all next. It is some sort of perfidious human desire to never be where we are, but to be next, to be the next minute forward, to escape the present." I don't know about escaping the present, but I am guilty of thinking if I can just get this done, then I'll be able to relax or do more with the kids. Even Paul's character was developed enough for me to sort of picture him. I guess my point is that if a character's thoughts connect with or reiterate my own, that's a real character to me.

I did think it was cliche-ish that Hadley suddenly "got religion" when she wanted to believe her son was really alive. That sort of bothered me. In fact, the whole Hadley-falling-for-the-pilot's- widow's-story bothered me. I guess I could have done without that whole part of the book. I see that the authors wanted Hadley to have her own "trip to the truth," her moment of actualization just as Sam did in going to the crash site, but I would have been fine with Hadley going through it all via reading the letters and being in her island house and painting again.

One odd little thing I noticed (probably because it is so close to Christmas) was on the next to the last page Hadley is writing to Sam "when I return to Anchorage tomorrow morning. Abbot Fredric said there is a predawn ferry, for the residents who work in town, and I will be on it." Then, at the end of this same letter (and the end of the book) she ends with "It's Christmas Eve." So, I must ask does the ferry run on Christmas? Maybe it does, some places are open on Christmas, right? Are there Blockbusters in Alaska?

So, those are my thoughts on The Letters. I thought it was a perfect book choice for this time of year with the book's last letter being written on Christmas Eve and its look at the bonds of family and their strength, especially enduring a loss. I am looking forward to finding out what will be next for the Hoochee Book Club (and, PS, don't you love the book club name?).


Ainsley said...

K, I'm so glad you're a part of the Hoochee Book Club! I really enjoyed reading your review. I was very curious to know how the writing collaboration went as well. I chose to assume that Sam's letters were written by Joseph and Hadley's letters were written by Luanne... after all, Joseph even looks like Sam was described and his family runs sled dogs! But who knows? Perhaps I should e-mail the authors and see if they'll respond!

By the way, the Mr. Linky is working now if you still want to link up.=)

mel said...

Well, banks are open on Christmas Eve so surely you can catch a ferry, right?

This book sounds very interesting. I think I might want to check it out. And, for the record, Chris can write some super emotional stuff sometimes. It's pretty amazing to read some of the stuff he comes up with for Christmas cards actually. So, I can see a character like Sam being realistic, only because of my own situation. But, I'm with you. I think those types are probably few and far between.

Great review! Keep me updated on this BC...a set up like this sounds perfect for me!