This Memorial Day, Hartford Books Examiner reviews I’ll Be Seeing You (Harlequin MIRA, $15.95) by Suzanne Hayes and Loretta Nyhan.
Out tomorrow, I’ll Be Seeing You marks the authors’ first collaborative effort. (A prequel, This Heart of Mine, is also available as a digital short.) The book began as an informal project when the two decided to write each other in character as World War II wives while their individual manuscripts were out on submission; Hayes is the pseudonym of New Haven-based Suzanne Palmieri, whose debut novel, The Witch of Little Italy (St. Martin’s Griffin, $14.99), was published in March, while Loretta Nyhan’s The Witch Collector was digitally released in two parts by Harper Teen Impulse in April/May.
An epistolary novel, I’ll Be Seeing You is written as a series of letters between characters – primarily twenty-three year old Glory Whitehall from New England and forty-year old Marguerite (“Rita”) Vincenzo from Iowa, both of whom have husbands enlisted in the war. What begins as a tentative correspondence between two women who are disparate in age and life experience becomes an intense and enduring exercise, as they begin to anticipate the arrival of letters to temper the desperation, frustration, and uncertainty of those left behind in times of war.
As the story begins, we learn that Glory is an expectant mother whose first child, two-year-old Robbie Jr., is prone to illness. She writes “Garden Witch” – Rita’s alias, pulled from a hat at a local 4-H group meeting – to introduce herself properly (“I figured if we are going to write, why not know each other?”) and expresses a desire to have letters delivered to her mailbox that don’t carry an army seal. Rita responds in kind, proclaiming to be the wife of a professor, Sal, and mother to a boyish eighteen-year old, Toby, who has started basic training in the navy (and left a sweetheart behind). These initial letters are somewhat transparent in content as the women seek to establish common ground – marriage, parenting, gardening – before revealing more intimate details of themselves.
Quickly, though, Glory and Rita become unfettered in their expressions, sharing their greatest hopes, fears, and desires along with advice (both sought and not), recipes, and other tokens of friendship. It’s a bond that may at first appear unlikely, but, upon consideration, is rather poetic in its apparent incongruity. Young Glory’s impetuous, whimsical nature is the perfect counter-balance for Rita’s more reserved, world-weary manner, and these differences have a subtle yet profound impact on one another over time. Distance in its many forms simply vanishes as the women become soul sisters, united in the constant awareness that death or disaster is only a letter away.
In addition to the natural progression of this relationship as it unfolds on the page (a case of art imitating life, as the authors have yet to meet each other in person), Hayes and Nyhan do an admirable job of capturing the enormity – physically and emotionally – of war, both from the battlegrounds and on the home front. With their spouses overseas, Glory and Rita are forced to redefine themselves, creating new and complex identities that surpass the expectations of homemaker. It’s a harbinger of an era to come – and a poignant reminder that women are often the unsung heroes in times of trouble.
With I’ll Be Seeing You, Suzanne Hayes and Loretta Nyhan have crafted a highly evocative and nostalgic story that is sweeping in its depth and entirely unforgettable. Further, their protagonists, Glory and Rita, possess a genuine warmth and wisdom that serves to remind us of how ordinary people can, and often do, achieve extraordinary things – even if only through acts of solidarity that remain largely unknown. This book is not just a celebration of women, but of the power of written words and their ability to transcend time and place…