Letters from the Closet: Ten Years of Correspondence That Changed My Life
Amy Hollingsworth holds a master’s degree in counseling and psychology, as well as a bachelor’s degree in English and psychology. She also was a writer for “The 700 Club” and taught as an adjunct professor of psychology at the University of Mary Washington. In this autobiographical book, Hollingsworth shares years worth of correspondence between herself and her high school English teacher.
LETTERS FROM THE CLOSET contains the writings shared between the author and her teacher, John, over a 10-year period. Much of the book is filled with John’s handwritten letters to Amy, followed in turn by her explanation of what he meant to convey by his words. Amy helps readers understand the complicated dynamics that existed --- which sometimes were strained, other times flourished --- between these two unlikely friends. In fact, using “friends” to describe their relationship doesn’t do it justice; for many seasons of their correspondence, it was an unequal friendship because of John’s age and Amy’s untried youth. Still, both seemed to “get” each other and, over time, slowly unmasked themselves to one another.
"Hollingsworth is an excellent writer whose prose reads beautifully throughout. Perhaps the greatest takeaway from this thoughtful read is that every single person we relate to does and will continue to shape our lives in some way."
The better part of this intimate text is that perspective of push/pull that happens between people who are in a relationship (for better or worse) over the long haul. Throughout these written conversations, readers will watch as both John and Amy morph and grow and change. It is an interesting study of how people subtly manipulate one another via the written word and don’t realize the impact of the exchange until years later. The fact that John was a public high school teacher and Amy was his student raises numerous moral and ethical questions that seem to get brushed to the wayside. In fact, it is telling that the author waited until her teacher passed away before sharing this story publicly.
Readers will find the interchange between two highly intelligent and contemplative people interesting. And the exchange heats up when Amy begins exploring the faith issue with John. Neither one backs down from their stances, and Amy laments that her good friend doesn’t understand how important her faith has become to her. As they grow closer in their relationship, John confides to Amy that he is gay and has a special interest in one of his male students --- yet another example of a breach of the teacher/student boundaries. Although John waits for his love interest to graduate before sharing his feelings, Amy feels nothing but grief for both John and the male student when John’s affections are not reciprocated.
The entirety of this text is somewhat troubling in that Hollingsworth realizes her parents (and other responsible adults) would not have approved of this friendship. She continues to have dreams/visions of John in various settings that seem to trouble or console her, depending on their content. Setting aside these concerns, Hollingsworth is an excellent writer whose prose reads beautifully throughout. Perhaps the greatest takeaway from this thoughtful read is that every single person we relate to does and will continue to shape our lives in some way.
Reviewed by Michele Howe on May 17, 2013