I am a military brat who spent the first four years of my life on a base in Hanau, Germany. My grandmother sent me a care package once a week with Band-Aids, Scotch tape, McDonaldland cookies and a letter. So began my love of epistolary relationships. As an adult, I write regular letters to our son and his friends in college and send postcards to friends from my adventures around the world. It’s thrilling to see epistolary relationships in literature. Some people may think sending letters is outdated, but when we are far from those we love, letters offer a lifeline. Not since Nick Bantock’s Griffin and Sabine series have I found two such charming stories of love and romance and notes.
British author Jenny Colgan’s 500 Miles From You made me smile from start to finish. Written in three parts, it’s a charming yarn from across the pond. Despite the sad circumstances that introduce us to nurse Lissa Westcott, this is a hopeful, beautifully written story. On a day that changes her life forever, Lissa witnesses a hit-and-run accident that kills Kai, a young man she knows. She accompanies him to the hospital, performing CPR all the while, yet he still dies. Five hundred and eighty-three miles north by northwest is Cormac MacPherson, an army veteran and nurse/paramedic.
Lissa’s unsuccesful struggle to save Kai’s life results in a signficant mental cost for her. In an attempt to help Lissa “recalibrate” and deal with her trauma, her company sends her to a tiny town in the Scottish Highlands. Cormac’s town. The result, of course, is that he swaps places with her in London. Despite the carrot dangled in front of him for moving up the corporate ladder, Cormac knows the exchange program is a way to send the “burnouts” to the countryside to recuperate. But as it turns out, the exchange program was the right move. In working together over email, consulting on cases and learning about each other, Cormac and Lissa click.
Historical romances often use notes and letters as a device for conversation, and though Colgan uses electronic mail rather than snail mail, she creates a refreshing, slow-building romance. Lissa and Cormac learn as much about themselves as they do each other, and despite the panic both face in deciding to actually speak on the phone or meet in person, the heart wants what the heart wants. This is a story that will make the reader’s heart sigh.
Tash Skilton’s Ghosting: A Love Story is another lighthearted epistolary tale with a very modern, youthful vibe. There are so many things that work in this refreshing contemporary romance by first-time collaborators Sarvenaz Tash and Sarah Skilton. It’s part Sleepless in Seattle, part Roxanne and part “Friends.” It’s a perfect, ’90s-esque enemies-to-lovers rom-com, but for the new millennium.
Miles Ibrahim and Zoey Abot are ghostwriters who work for competing online dating sites in New York City. They spend their workdays in the digital realm, meeting, flirting and messaging clients. IRL, however, native New Yorker Miles vacillates between fury and heartbreak over his recent breakup with his fiancé, who’s now pregnant (and suspiciously farther along than originally purported). New-to-town Zoey feels unwelcome, and yearns for space to herself and room to breathe.
Skilton weaves a tale full of pop-culture references, meet-cutes and geek-speak that will be like catnip to digital natives. The dialogue is quick, snappy and smart. Readers need to be as up on their literary references (Miles refers to his parents’ relationship as a “Capulet/Montague saga”) as they are on their Instagrammable moments. Miles is Egyptian American and Jewish, and refers to himself as a “millennial multitasking Jewslim,” and Zoey is Filipina American; they are the embodiment of the multicultural time and place in which they’re falling in love.
Between two sets of families, friends and dating app clients, there are admittedly a lot of characters to keep up with. It’s prophetic that their respective clients, Bree and Jude, fall for each other; they are, after all, somewhat alternate versions of Miles and Zoey. The steady tension of Miles continuing to dwell on his broken engagement, and Zoey learning that her frenemy Miles is the online personality she fell for, slows the pace somewhat. But it’s hard to hold it against this young, trendy and effortlessly cool debut.