"The Hatbox Letters"

The Hatbox Letters by Beth Powning

Oh dear. Another book written in the present tense, though I didn't find that as annoying in this one as I did in The Nine Lives Of Charlotte Taylor. The narrator spends a lot of time reminiscing about the past which gives her plenty of opportunity to switch into the past tense so I guess that made it easier to read. And somehow the present tense seems to fit this story better, giving a feeling that there is no past or future, just the interminable now.

The title refers to nine old fashioned hatboxes found in Kate's grandparents house and filled with old letters, pictures, receipts, invoices, ticket stubs, etc. They have been in the attic for years but now her siblings want her to sort through them and decide what to do with them. Recently widowed and grieving she finds little else to interest her and so begins to put together the pieces of her family's history from the old documents and lots of imagination.

I found the book well written, but the story slow getting started. In the first two or three chapters there was little about the letters and much about the loss she has suffered and how it has changed her. And for me it was a bit heavy on similes and metaphors in the early chapters. There were so many of them they began to get in the way. Fortunately the tempo picked up and I got caught up in the story, both stories actually, past and present.

The sections dealing with Kate's grandparents lives were great, but very little of it came from the letters she found. It's all fictional of course, so Powning could have said anything in the letters, but instead she wrote most of the grandparents' story from Kate's imaginings. She imagines them responding to a situation in one way or another or she pictures them going here or there or saying certain things. It made it all a bit hard to believe for me. And even though it is fiction, the goal should still be to tell a convincing story.

The present day story of Kate dealing with the death of her husband and trying to figure out her place in the world now as a single woman is insightful and compassionate, but sometimes heavy and difficult to wade through.The title doesn't really give an accurate idea of what the book is about. There are hat boxes and there are letters, but what the book is really about is dealing with grief. That's the main story. And just as I found it slow to start, once I got within a chapter or two of the end I found myself getting bogged down again. I kept checking to see how much was left to read.

So I'm conflicted on this one. When I read this over it sounds like I didn't like it much and it's true I think it's weak in a few areas, but I still have to say it's a very good read and I'd be open to reading more of her writing. I do think you'll find it worth the time you'll invest in it. If you decide to read it, please stop by and let me know what you thought.


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