Wednesday, June 02, 2010

THE LOVE LETTER by Cathleen Schine (1995)

Helen is a forty-something divorcee who has her own bookshop in the little east coast town where she grew up. Her daughter Emily has gone off to summer camp and although Helen misses her only child almost viscerally she is able to fall head over heels for Johnny, one of the college students working for her, without consideration for anyone but herself. Johnny has the arrogance and irresistibility of youth and the two of them spiral into an affair that is at once both forbidden and enviable.

An anonymous love letter using nicknames arrives one day at the store where Helen has all of her mail posted and she becomes obsessed by the idea of discovering who its author is. That journey leads her through several misconceptions and finally to its true, surprising source.

Summer loving has never seemed so grown up, especially when Helen's mother Lilian and grandmother Eleanor come to stay and add a n'importe quoi to the household.

I especially enjoyed the many references to existing epistolary correspondences like those from Elizabeth Bishop, Emily Dickinson and Anais Nin, as well as the fully realized work life inside a bookstore. THE LOVE LETTER made me long for a bookshop of my own, just as 84 CHARING CROSS did.

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