Book Review: A Thousand Letters by Staci Hart

A Thousand Letters by Staci Hart
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Summary:   Sometimes your life is split by a single decision. 

I’ve spent every day of the last seven years regretting mine: he left, and I didn’t follow. A thousand letters went unanswered, my words like petals in the wind, spinning away into nothing, taking me with them.

But now he’s back.

I barely recognize the man he’s become, but I can still see a glimmer of the boy who asked me to be his forever, the boy I walked away from when I was young and afraid.

Maybe if he’d come home under better circumstances, he could speak to me without anger in his voice. Maybe if I’d said yes all those years ago, he’d look at me without the weight of rejection in his eyes. Maybe if things were different, we would have had a chance.

One regretted decision sent him away. One painful journey brought him back to me. I only wish I could keep him.

*A contemporary romance inspired by Jane Austen’s Persuasion*

I've been wanting to get into a good romance for a while now (lately it's so hard to find something that's contemporary and not cliche) so when I saw this, I pounced! Persuasion is by far my favorite Austen and is one of my all time favorite reads. As a proper Austenite/Janeite, I'm susceptible to falling for works that purport to be re-imagined re-tellings. A Thousand Letters did that and I'm here to tell you this... it bloody damn well isn't!

You know that wit Austen shows us when Anne's family are present in all their vapid glory? It's not here. You know that societal commentary Austen shows us in the urgency and precarious nature of Anne's singlehood (monetarily, familial & social)? Also not here. You know that absolutely heart-rending anticipation and worry she writes that has you on tenterhooks along with Anne that it may not all work out thereby damning her forever? Nowhere to be found here. I could go on but it'll only serve to annoy me further.

There are plenty of ways the author could have made the case that Elliot and Wade were at their last chance in life here but she didn't. The reason they part to begin with is that she's 17 and in need of finishing high school. Who in this modern age would advise a teenager that dropping out to marry is a good decision? Elliot's reasoning rings sound, Wade's immature and proof that, however earnest, he wasn't ready to marry anyone.

Fast forward seven years and our supposed last chance lovers are 24 & 26 or so (adding to the hard sell that is the "last chance at love" & anything remotely hinting at Anne type spinsterhood). Here's the thing, Elliot displays no signs of being anything close to being societally vulnerable (like Anne). She has a Literature degree from NYU, lives in her sister's tony brownstone & when she isn't nannying for her niece & nephew, she clocks parttime hours at a bookstore called Wasted Words (I laughed at the irony of that business name here!). This is not a woman living a life in the pursuit of penury also known as Student Loan debt. This is not the life of a woman that society at large and life in general is on the cusp of leaving behind in the rubbish bin of value. She doesn't have any actual worries pertaining to finances, social position or singlehood so fills up her time with angst over her lost love, Wade. That's the entirety of her life of quiet desperation. She quietly endures her family but that's window-dressing here and doesn't hit the mark Austen set. Elliot is imbued with none of Anne's pathos and resultantly comes across as a dim sap instead of a rootworthy heroine. Wade has his own problems & I don't have the inclination to go into them in detail here but suffice it to say, he's no Frederick Wentworth. The only thing they share is military service.

A few thoughts on setting here. I realize that it may be challenging in the modern age to give characters similar struggles to those offered in Persuasion. Still, there are things that are real that could be used to. A loss of financial position or job loss due to the collapse of 2008, for example could have been used to show Elliot with some sort of desperation when Wade reappears in her life. Having Elliot as a woman under a mountain of student loan debt who's facing eviction and economic downturn woes. Keep him military but have him as having made his fortune in defense contracting after his service would have given him a modern Wentworth-like characteristic. That would have given them opposites to play off of here instead of coming from class parity and pretty well being on par when they meet again. I kept waiting for the personal stakes of Elliot and Wade to be bigger and it was never capitalized on. It made for a disappointing read. Because truly, Wade's dying professor father & already dead mother in a terrorist attack was cheap. Its heavy-handedness annoyed me instead of pulling at my heartstrings. Another hallmark that there's nothing of Austen's deftness of story craft here. Beware the work that has a profusion of quotes from The Bard, Byron, Whitman & other poetic masters trying to bolster it & elevate its depth. It didn't work here. Melodrama and angst are not the same as sentiment and literary or emotional depth. I'll say this in the author's favor, she had the good taste not to mention Jane Austen in her Thank You.

If you've read and love Persuasion, skip this one. If you haven't read Persuasion, go read that instead of this. If after you've read that, you still want to read this, don't expect it to be a modern day re-telling as this is to Persuasion what Hershey's Kisses are to French chocolate mousse. Two stars because while I did not like it, I'm sure this book has an audience that will fall head over heels for it (and I really hate to give one star ratings). Not recommended.

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