In 1960s Edinburgh, university student Amelia has fallen in love with a complicated, moody and enormously confusing young man. Despite her best efforts to convince him otherwise, Geoff just doesn’t seem to love Amelia the way she loves him . . . and she may have been comfortable allowing him to go gently into that good night if not for one sudden, undeniable fact: she’s pregnant.
Without support and far from home, Amelia knows each of the decisions she faces isn’t without complications and pain. In three distinct sections, we glimpse Amelia’s life as she makes one of three decisions: to keep the baby; to have an abortion; to give the baby up for adoption. And no matter which route she takes, she knows her life will never be the same.
Abigail B. Calkin’s The Carolyne Letters looked to be an intriguing story of a young woman facing an unexpected pregnancy — a situation made all the more difficult in 1964. I went into the novel hoping to be moved and enthralled . . . and certainly bonded to Amelia. But I was disappointed.
The key to this novel’s success hinges on us feeling — really feeling — for Amelia, our unlikely mother-to-be. The tension is derived from questioning her motives, her future: will she or won’t she? Told in a dated diary-like format with passages both short and long, we experience heartache and obsession with Amelia for the first 70 pages or so. Geoff loves her, he loves her not . . . and the whole book reads like the first-love manifestos we have all probably penned ourselves at some point. That would have been okay — a little repetitive and annoying, really, but fine — if we’d eventually moved beyond it. We just never did.
As a whole, I didn’t take a shine to the writing style or characters. Amelia seems melodramatic, serious, almost manic in her musings about life and love. Like anyone facing a life-altering decision, she vacillates between all three choices for this child — adoption, birth, abortion — and has little assistance from friends or Geoff-on-a-pedestal during the process. We never got a feel for the object of her affection, mostly because Geoff is a self-important, condescending clown. I wanted to like Amelia, and wanted to feel for her, but it was hard to relate to someone so in love with an epic tool. Seriously, the dude is no good.
I appreciated the unique nature of this book and did get more invested in Amelia’s fate as we moved through the story, but it never quite worked for me. I read idly and was mostly disinterested, honestly, but I did finish. Because such an emotional issue is at its core, I expected The Carolyne Letters to wrap its little paperback fingers around my heart and hold on — but I appreciated the overarching themes more than the story itself. It was literary, sure, but just had little soul.
3 out of 5!