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In Letters Never Sent, we meet Katherine Henderson, a young farm girl with a desire for big city adventure. She moves from a small town in Kansas to Chicago and finds a job at a Sears and Roebuck’s glove counter. The year is 1931 and Katherine is full of hope for her future. As a country girl new to the hustle and bustle of the big city, Katherine is befriended and mentored by a more experienced co-worker named Claire. Claire is also on her own adventurous path, but their friendship leads to heartache and devastation for Katherine and shapes Katherine’s worldview for the rest of her life.
Also newly arrived at Sears and Roebuck is a young woman named Annie. Annie has a past she doesn’t want to talk about, a bohemian attitude that makes her mostly unconcerned about the conventions of the day, and an instant attraction to Katherine. They begin a tentative friendship, but it soon becomes apparent that Annie wants more than friendship with Katherine. At first, Katherine denies her feelings for Annie, but after an earth shattering event, Katherine realizes that her happiness lies with Annie and the two begin a relationship that will last a lifetime. However, the relationship is not without difficulties, made especially complicated by Katherine’s inability to accept who she is along with the pressure exerted from her family to return home and “settle down.”
The story swings like a giant pendulum, reaching into the past revealing the life Katherine led in Chicago with Annie, swinging back into the late 1990s as Katherine’s daughter, Joan, struggles to deal with her recently deceased mother’s affairs. While going through her mother’s things, Joan discovers a packet of letters her mother wrote but never mailed. As Joan reads them, she uncovers a love affair her mother had with someone only identified as “A.” Because of the anguish caused by the details of the mysterious affair, and because Joan is struggling with her own personal difficulties, she is drawn to her mother’s next door neighbor, the elderly Mrs. Yoccum, who was her mother’s friend for years. Joan looks to Mrs. Yoccum to shed some light on her mother’s past, and reluctantly, the older woman begins to fill in details of the story, revealing Joan’s mother as a woman vastly different from the closed and unfeeling woman of Katherine’s experience.
Moran has skillfully drawn the characters in the story starting with the enigma that Joan discovers her mother to be. The story unfolds like a flower; the impact of it on each person is profound. Over the years, the edgy Annie and the conservative Katherine each move toward a more mellow center, but that was all before Joan’s time and before the day that shook Katherine’s world to the core and prompted her to begin writing the letters.
Letters Never Sent is a well written tale that will keep the reader wanting to unravel the details of the mysterious love affair. The reader will feel a part of the setting and events of the 1930s to experience everything as the characters encounter it. The emotion of the significant experiences is keenly felt as the story progresses. The relationship between Joan and Mrs. Yoccum evolves from that of a childhood neighbor to an adult confidante. The older woman’s wisdom and acceptance makes her an appealing character. Just as the story comes to an end, Moran has one final surprise that is sure to leave the reader with a range of reactions, which will linger after the last page is turned.
Letters Never Sent is the story of a daughter uncovering a side of her mother kept hidden until her death and how that knowledge, once discovered, affects her own life. It’s a spectacular offering of love gained, lost, and struggled with over a lifetime—a poignant tale with a marvelous reveal at the end.
Letters Never Sent
By Sandra Moran
Paperback, 9781939562104. 296 pp.