In the quaint New England town of Pequot--"an artists' colony without the artists"--a mystery unfolds in the form of a crumpled letter. Helen MacFarquhar, the divorced 42-year-old proprietor of Horatio Street Books, finds a torrid love note in a stack of mail. Creased oddly, without an accompanying envelope, addressed to "Goat" and signed "Ram," at first the letter only momentarily disrupts her routine. But Helen, usually in total control of her thoughts, can't seem to get it out of her head. Was it simply a postal error, or was it meant for her? Everyone who enters her store becomes a suspect, even her new summer employee, 20-year-old Johnny--whom she has paraded around the premises like "a turkey, perhaps, on a leash," introducing him with delighted condescension: "Look what I've got ... a college student."
Johnny is alternately fascinated and irritated by his boss, who relies on unabashed, highly skilled flirting as her fail-safe mechanism for closing a sale. We too are drawn in by Helen's seductive charm and savvy competency, so much so that we are as genuinely surprised as she is when her idle wonderings about Johnny become something more. What could this literary, lovely face that sells a thousand books see in a college boy, 22 years her junior?
Except for the duo's first embrace--precipitated by Helen's accidental hosing down of the hunky, shirtless undergrad--The Love Letter stays comfortably on this side of heaving-bosom romance novel. Humor reigns supreme here, as well as a warm nostalgia and thoughtful reflection on good old-fashioned letter writing: "Letters are so indiscreet, she thought. They're so exposed, so vulnerable, so naked--they're even worse than snapshots." Cathleen Schine's engaging fourth novel may even incite a few readers to forgo e-mail for the pleasant scrape of ink across paper. --Brangien Davis [via]