Many years ago I had the pleasure of watching a stage production of Helen Hanff’s fine book 84 Charing Cross Road, a story that chronicles a long distance friendship via mail over a two decade long period. Letters Between Us is written along similar lines.
The story involves the relationship between two friends from childhood, Laura Wells and Katharine Taylor Fields. Following the sudden death of Katharine, Laura heads out on an odyssey of self discovery. Both women were Pack Rats, keeping all of their correspondence all the way back to grade school.
While visiting Katherine’s husband David, Laura manages to borrow Katherine’s stash of letters and other assorted notes. She asks her husband to messenger over her own stash of saved correspondence.Â Â While holed up in a hotel in Santa Barbara replays their long time friendship through her own treasure trove of letters, the borrowed ones, and her own memory.
Linda Radar Overman has an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing, and it truly shows in this short yet hugely powerful book. The subject areas covered are wide and varied. Old wounds are re-opened, situations once more analyzed with the gift of hind sight, could the friendship have been better, above all was there more that Laura could have done to prevent her friends unfortunate death?
The interplay between characters is intricate, and Overman’s style is infectious. Letters Between Us is written in three voices, a tough act to pull off successfully, and one that requires great attention to detail. There are Laura’s letters, Katherine’s letters, and Laura’s musings about both the past and present.
I was not sure at first if this style would work, inevitably it was going to create a choppy style. And indeed it is choppy, but in a delicious way. The reader gains insights to the characters from the ‘out takes’ from the letters. In fact the effect is so well employed that it is hard to believe Letters Between Us is a work of fiction.
Overman is notÂ shy about subject matter either, drinking, drugs, sex, they all get an airing. In part this is a coming of age story, yet it is so much more. It is hard to believe that so much ground can be covered in a scant 160 pages. As I understand it she currently teaches English at the California State University in Northridge, and I will bet her classes are jam packed!
Some might think that Letters Between Us falls in the Chick Lit genre, trust me it is a million miles from there! This is an artfully crafted work, and one that is guaranteed to make you sit and think. Normally as soon as I finish reading a book I sit down in front of the computer and start typing up the review. I did not do that with Letters Between Me, there was so much to process that I had to sleep on it. Great book, can’t recommend it enough.