Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Affectionately, Mr. Hair Shirt

Most summers in high school found me shelving books as a volunteer at the library. One afternoon in the midst of the H's, I stumbled across 84, Charing Cross Road. Working at a bookstore in college, I was introduced to Nick Bantock's Griffin and Sabine books. Most recently I was entranced to find that the somewhat unwieldy titled The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is also an epistolary novel.

Add to the list, then, Frances and Bernard by Carlene Bauer. Two writers meet at a writing colony (like this one) and start a correspondence. Bernard is an established poet who flirts from teaching post to teaching post. Frances, working on her first novel, lands a job in New York and moves into the infamous Barbizon. Both are Catholic, and much of their early ruminations center around faith. 

As their friendship grows, they also write letters confiding doubt, fear, and elation to their best friends. With references from Augustine to Weegee, the letters are crafted with humor, wit, and insight. You'll sigh at the romance, nod knowingly at the insecurity, and cringe at the hurtful. And just as eagerly as one used to open a letter, you'll turn the page to find out if they remain "ever yours."