Back to school reading for grownups.
By the time a woman is thirty, she has experienced loss, most likely. It’s true for men too, I’m sure, but in Letters For Scarlet, a book about grief, friendship, grace, and courage, the losses are felt most keenly through the eyes of two former best friends, girls who have grown into women with missing pieces.
Corie is a teacher outside of Los Angeles who stayed in her hometown, married her high school sweetheart, and is struggling to get pregnant. She cherishes her extended family, caring for the children of her sister, a carefree soul who has a colorful side story in this novel. Her husband, Tuck, is frequently absent because of his medical sales job, so Corie makes the most of the times when he is home.
Scarlet is the prodigal friend, the one who left. She is a lawyer in San Francisco, an ambitious loner with few friends. The ones she does let in, though, are close to her heart. She’s accidentally pregnant with her boyfriend Gavin who adores her and wishes he could get closer. Clara is her confidante and sidekick, who allows Scarlet to lean on her when she is down.
Corie and Scarlet haven’t spoken in ten years. They have both allowed the rift to scar over, and it seems they will go on forever this way, until Corie receives a letter in the mail…from herself.
In their senior year of high school, the students in Corie’s English class wrote letters to themselves ten years in the future. Rich with expectation and hope, Corie’s letter assumed she’d be married to Tuck, a secret she kept from Scarlet at the time, because the three of them were best friends, seemingly unencumbered by romance. As the reader learns when adult Corie hears from student Corie, everything changed when tragedy hit the merry group of friends. A tragedy that sent Scarlet away, and Corie and Tuck missing her for a decade.
Once you’ve experienced such a loss—your friend or family member died, your relationship imploded, your dreams were dashed—that space inside you is never really full again. You learn to live with it, to somehow get through a day, and then another, and then look! Five years have gone by since she died. How did that happen?
Corie and Scarlet live their lives this way. They experience plenty of joy and love, but there’s a sadness in their thoughts that tempers every emotion. Corie clearly seeks redemption. Scarlet just wants to blot the feelings out completely.
But it’s Corie’s pining for her old friend that reaches into you and pulls your heartstrings right out of your chest. Gardner’s language is infused with pain and hope in equal measure. She gives Corie a voice through her letters—as the title implies there is a high school letter for Scarlet, but that falls into Corie’s hands. This prompts her to add her own, and she continues, journal-like, to write to Scarlet, pouring out her years of separation, her private yearning for a baby, her doubts and frustrations.
Gardner describes the scenes with such detail, enough that you feel like you’re really there, but not so much that you lose track of the story. It all feels like it’s heading to something inevitable, but just like in real life, characters are messy and unpredictable. Nothing works out like you expect it to, and that’s the real beauty of Letters For Scarlet. Like a packet of letters from an old friend, this book is a worthy companion.