A kindred spirit forms a regional tradition, collecting letters from a lone mailbox in North Carolina. This is an actual landmark on Sunset Beach, where sweethearts while away the day while children play in the magnificent oceanscape. Year after year, stories have been written and left behind here, forming a tale of enduring love for those who return. Countless numbers have found peace and renewal, but for Lindsey Adams and Campbell Forrester, Sunset is also a place of truth and betrayal. Both of them come to the beach separately for the next 20 years to remember happy summers and to pray for another chance at real love.
Beginning in the year 1985, Lindsey spends summers in Sunset with her aunt and uncle. She's just 15 when she falls in love with Campbell, a local with whom she feels a surprising and continuing connection. In no time the two are inseparable, relishing every waking minute together until Lindsey returns home. Their days and evenings are spent on the beach alone, swimming and marveling in the joy of living in the moment. By summer's end, both are rosy-complected and satiated with a youthful contentment. They've whispered sweet promises known only to each other and have agreed not to see anyone else. Their time ends with a final dance on the pier, becoming completely caught up in the rapture of love. And Lindsey begins the tradition of writing a yearly letter to the "kindred spirit," recording her deepest secrets for an anonymous reader. Before long, it's clear that the couple are made for each other, and neither can wait until the day they see each other again.
The remembrance of two wonderful summers is enough to see Lindsey and Campbell through the long stretches apart, but after envisioning a lifetime together, something unbelievable happens. One slip in a time of weakness and everything changes. By the third summer, they've broken up and forced themselves to move on. Jumping forward, they marry and have children with other people but never do forget those summers and the most powerful love they've ever experienced.
The book then moves forward to 2003, finding Campbell long divorced and Lindsey only newly divorced. Campbell has come to resent what his ex-wife has done to his family and has only just discovered that his daughter Nikki has severe problems; she's been hospitalized for anorexia, and Campbell has decided to step forward and take charge. He's hoping that, by taking her to Sunset, he can give her the love and support she needs and that it will be enough for her to choose to let him in. Lindsey plans to return to Sunset too, still reeling from the damaging effects of her own divorce. Her children had been devastated when their father left, and Lindsey would love nothing more than for him to come home. But her husband wants nothing to do with his old life and has left her in the position of raising them alone. Like Campbell, she's hoping to feel a sense of renewal by returning to her uncle's summer home.
THE MAILBOX is a story of redemption and enduring love, both for one couple and for God. The central themes of the book are that His love is universal and that He gives second chances, "whether we deserve them or not." The spiritual element here is something I felt was special, containing almost no trace of severity or vehemence. Faith is approached with a gentle touch, offering love and support for everyone --- including those who decide not to walk "the straight and narrow path." It's one of the most accepting approaches to spirituality I've seen, and the book feels like a gift freely given. It is also well written and beautifully imagined.
You may have noticed that THE MAILBOX is similar in storyline to THE NOTEBOOK, but there are a few differences that add to its complexity. One is that the lovers here have children and are middle-aged adults, and for parents, there are always more considerations than romantic feelings. Lindsey also has lingering feelings for her husband, which complicates her situation considerably. When you add to the mix the unique dynamics of different families, it's a difficult scenario all around. This book shows clearly how life's choices often boil down to just a few decisions. It is a complex family drama that moves quickly from one scene to the next and maintains a high degree of interest, though there are a few points where the story does drag (often where prayers and reminiscences become too frequent or prolonged).
Author Marybeth Whalen’s gentle, relatively forgiving perspective on humanity is one I can appreciate, and I loved the book for its moments of clarity and vision.
Reviewed by Melanie Smith on June 1, 2010