Thursday, June 19, 2014

Book review: "Letters To My Mother"

Letters To My Mother is a novel by Rebecca Heath that is written in a memoir style, based on letters the fictional Kate wrote to her mother from college in the fifties. The book begins with a brief introduction, where we learn that Kate has inherited the neglected house her mother lived in, and is cleaning it out to sell when she discovers that her mother kept all the letters ever written to her. She briefly reads letters from old family friends, and the letters her father wrote her mother when they were dating, and then discovers a box with letters she had written to her mother over her lifetime. Then we read the first letter.

The format is different - we get a letter, then narration of the time itself. A majority of the story takes place Kate's junior year of college in Seattle, where she is an anthropology student applying for a job as a typist for a professor. Being fluent in Spanish, she is the chosen candidate. Dr Rosenau is a middle aged (47 to Kate's 19), handsome, charismatic, professor with a German father and Argentine mother. Kate is a military child, who has lived all over the world and attended three years of boarding school in Spain. Despite her background, she is naive and innocent.

Kate and David (Dr Rosenau), become close and after a few months embark on a passionate love affair. They are aided by graduate student Frank, who is a friend to both of them. David teaches Kate to sail, and they spend a lot of time sailing around the bay, and attending concerts and other events together, having a similar taste in the classics. Despite their age difference, they seem to be a well-matched couple and are madly in love. Unfortunately, even though Kate was using birth control, she ends up pregnant and in 1957 the choices for an unwed, pregnant minor were limiting. They decide to give the baby up for adoption, and she flies home to her parents with plans on returning after to finish her schooling. Instead, she never returns and finishes college in California. She and David write each other occasionally, but she eventually meets and marries someone else.

Fast forward 27 years, and she is attending a conference in Seattle and she and David meet for dinner. They immediately fall into bed together, like they've never been apart. At dinner, she gives him photos of their son, now grown and in medical school, and tells of the disastrous meeting with him. They catch up on each other's lives, and decide to remain in contact and continue their affair around the country as she travels for business. Then, the narration switches back to the time of the prologue, and she tells us, the readers, that she kept the letters from her father and herself to share with her children someday.

What I didn't like:
I still am not sure how I feel about this book. It is a lovely story of a lifetime love, that storybook "great love, once in a lifetime." However, David is married with two teenage children. He says that he only married his wife because she was pregnant, although she lied about that and didn't confess until she was actually pregnant for real with their first child. She hates sex, doesn't participate and tells him to hurry up and get it over with, they don't get along, but she likes his money and status and will not grant him a divorce. Their children are only one and three years younger than Kate. Then later, when they decide to continue their affair, Kate is married with two children (David's wife is deceased at that point). She reveals she married him so he could stay in the country, but she also has no interest in divorcing her husband for David. Instead, she suggests the illicit affair again. I have a real problem with this.

What I did like:
Overall, it is an engaging, lovely story that was wonderfully told. Kate really grew and matured, in more ways than one, over that time period. She made horrible mistakes, and she did great things. She was perfectly 19.

I give it three stars, because I just can't get past the whole overlooking the spouses issue.

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