Monday, December 10, 2012
I decided this weekend to abandon the last novel I started, which I knew sucked from the first few pages, but which I read half of because I was on a plane. Since I'll be boarding a plane again within 10 days, I wanted something slim and paperback. I pulled The End of the Affair off the shelf, and flipping it open found a folded piece of paper, covered in handwriting, tucked inside. I opened it and found that it was a letter, and to avoid any breaches of privacy I quickly glanced at the signature to see if it was a private note to John. It was signed "Your daughter, [first name redacted]" -- and because John is not a father I knew it was not addressed to him. The vast majority of our books are bought used, so I assumed it was a found object, a relic from a stranger's past and safe to read. It was a touching letter, clearly written by a young woman expressing gratitude and indebtedness to her parents for supporting her (financially and otherwise) through a move to New York. As I read I formed a mental image of this lovely stranger. Then I came to a line toward the end that said "I suppose I've inherited a bit of the [last name redacted] difficulty with expressing emotion verbally." Putting the first name and last name together I realized I knew the person. The book must have come to us via a friend rather than a bookstore. It was a strange experience, a sort of slow-motion triple-take where I felt myself on the verge of violating someone's privacy, then safely at a distance, then suddenly and unexpectedly granted personal knowledge of the emotional life of someone I don't know very well. But of all the unsanctioned glimpses you could get into someone's past and personality, it was a rather flattering one. I don't suppose her parents ever saw the letter, unless it was a first draft that she later transferred to type or fancier stationery. Odd to think that I would get to read it instead of them.