There is no argument that a writer’s work is, at least in the creative stage, a solitary and sometimes lonely endeavor. Yet it is not unheard of for writers to team up and produce a book together. That is what Suzanne Hayes and Loretta Nyhan have done with their novel, which, interestingly enough, explores the theme of loneliness and some surprising remedies for it.
I’LL BE SEEING YOU is a novel of letters, the vast majority of which take place between two women, Glory Whitehall and Rita Vincenzo, whose husbands are overseas during World War II. Though reluctant to have a pen pal at first, each quickly comes to see the value in writing letters to another woman whose loneliness is from a similar source. And, while the two can relate to each other because of that similarity, it is their actual differences that bring them close together. Glory and Rita, though they have friends near them, find that writing letters to each other allows them an honesty and open-heartedness that is a balm for their loneliness and anxiety. They exchange advice, wisdom, funny stories, gardening tips and recipes. But more than that, they create a friendship that transcends age, experience, background and circumstance, and is instead about compassion for each other and a willingness to share truths about themselves.
"I'LL BE SEEING YOU is a charming story of an original and unusual friendship well worth reading from two authors whose collaboration proves successful."
Glory is a 23-year-old mother living in Rockport, Massachusetts, and her husband is fighting the war in Europe. When she first writes to Rita, Glory is seven months pregnant and chasing her two-year-old son, Robbie Jr. She is the daughter of a wealthy society couple, who loved her but raised her with a benign neglect. Glory found strength and comfort with her two best friends: Robert, who she would end up marrying, and Levi, who is left behind when Robert goes off to fight. Without Robert to keep their affectionate triangle proper, Glory and Levi have a passionate affair, and it is Rita, living far away, to whom Glory turns for advice.
Rita is older than Glory and raised by German immigrants. She is married to Sal, a professor, and lives in Iowa City, Iowa. Rita’s world is also shaken up by the war, with her husband serving as a medic in north Africa and her 18-year-old son, Toby, heading to Europe with the Navy. When she discovers that Toby has a girlfriend who is pregnant, Rita must draw on her inner resources and lean on her new friend for help.
Through the trauma of war and the loss that is its consequence, through illness and sorrow, through conflict and memory, as well as through unexpected friendships, new life and celebrations, Glory and Rita spend three years taking care of each other through their letters. Their voices are distinct and compelling, each products of their time and upbringing. Both are written as bold and powerful, though flawed as well. Hayes and Nyhan each took on one character and wrote the book back and forth with the letters, thus the flow and plotting feel unforced and natural. There is both a sweetness and a powerfulness in I’LL BE SEEING YOU, with a bit of an old-fashioned feel to it. The reading is not complicated, though many of the relationships it examines are. It is sometimes sentimental and other times predictable, but there are also plenty of interesting surprises and the writing overall is lovely. There is enough romance to make it a great summer read, but enough seriousness to balance that out and appeal to a large audience.
I'LL BE SEEING YOU is a charming story of an original and unusual friendship well worth reading from two authors whose collaboration proves successful.
Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on May 31, 2013