Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Book Review: Seven Letters from Paris

I was up for a love story. Thus, when I noticed this book on the recent acquisition shelf, I took the bait. Besides that, it is a memoir and I've been on a bit of a memoir kick. I did notice that the author doesn't mention an agent and says that the editor picked the manuscript from the slush piles. So thankful that things like that still happen (since the evidence leans more to the contrary, that you have to have an agent in order for your manuscript to see the light of day in the piles and piles of manuscripts which come across publishers' desks these days).

As far as love stories go, this was indeed a sweet love story. When Samantha was nineteen, she and her travelling companion met two Frenchmen in Paris and spent a wonderful evening and day with the two. The men begged the girls to stay in Paris for a few more days, but their itinerary required moving on to another city. Thus, Jean-Luc, the man with whom Samantha was temporarily smitten, waved good-bye on the train platform. Jean-Luc proceeded to write seven love letters. Although she always kept the letters, she failed to respond to a single one.

Twenty years later, as Samantha sat bemoaning a failing marriage with her friend (the same travelling companion), the friend mentioned the love letters and the sad truth that not many men write such extravagant love letters. This prompted Samantha to google Jean-Luc's full name in the hopes of finding him and apologizing for never responding to his letters. She admits that the abandonment of her biological father played havoc with her ability to trust men or allow herself to grow close to another individual. End result? The two end up happily married and now live together, with Jean-Luc's two children in France.

While I enjoyed the sweet tale, I did have a hard time with the details of the experience. The seven love letters were not, in my opinion, love letters to rival all others. Plus, she is still married when she initiates the re-intertwining of their lives. After reconnecting and dispatching several hundred e-mails, as well as numerous phone conversations, when he pays for her to visit, she jumps into bed with him the minute she gets to a room in France. They both pursue divorces in order to pursue their rekindled romance. I guess I am skeptical that momentary passion is a sound basis for relationship. For her sake, I hope that she is indeed happily settled in this romantic love affair. But, my inner critic tends to think they jumped quite quickly and without much forethought (especially, on the rebound).

Moreover, the tale seemed a bit too sunny (surely there were some relational conflicts between the two of them, as such conflicts are inevitable). She does mention in the acknowledgements that her new husband would have preferred a fictional account of their story, instead of a memoir, but that is the tricky thing with memoir ... when you write truthfully about your life, you have to include the details of other people's lives in the process and oftentimes, others don't wish their details made public. It is, therefore, difficult to assess whether the value of the telling overshadows the sacrifice of privacy. And in opening herself up to share her story, she runs the risk of finding readers whose ethics cause them to criticize her actions (sorry). Hopefully, her story succeeds in its goal and inspires others to seize a second chance at love.

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