One day when I was in Connecticut visiting my mother, I dumped a bag of mail I’d brought with me from New York onto the bed. As I went through it, I noticed a strangely crumpled piece of paper among the envelopes. It was an anonymous letter addressed to Goat from Ram. It was a highly literary and bitter response from a rejected lover. I have no idea how it got in my mail. At first it was so disturbing that I tore it up. Then I suddenly thought, “You idiot! This is your next book!” and desperately taped all the little shreds back together. Thus was born the The Love Letter, about a bossy, highly independant, controlling, flirtatious bookseller named Helen who finds an anonymous love letter, then falls in love with a nineteen-year-old boy. I wanted to write a novel about forbidden love and secret passion, and I realized that so few things are forbidden anymore. But a middle-aged woman and a nineteen year old boy…that’s something you still might want to keep from your mother.
The Love Letter came out in 1999. Kate Capshaw and Tom Selleck star in it. I had nothing to do with anything, but everyone was extremely nice and I especially like all the the scenes that were not in the book, most of all the scene in which all the firemen on their firetruck sing.
THE NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS, October 19 1995
by Claire Messud
Where would love be without the love letter? The messenger, the vessel of love, it is also, in Cathleen Schine’s charming fourth novel, its conjurer. It works its magic upon Helen MacFarquhar, a divorced mother of one in her early forties, who runs a bookstore in a well-heeled seaside town in Connecticut called Pequot. Bathed in history, Pequot is a place of quaint shops and sprawling old houses, in which Helen’s pink-fronted bookstore strikes the perfect note of cultivation and slight nonconformity. Perfect notes are Helen’s forte: her life is thoroughly ordered and agreeable, not by chance but by the force of will: “Those things Helen could control…she did control. What she could not control, she regarded as insubstantial or as inevitable. Most of her feelings she deemed insubstantial and she sent them packing with barely a nod of recognition.”
One morning, however, an anonymous love letter appears mysteriously in Helen’s mail, and proves more difficult to dismiss than her feelings. Addressed to “Goat,” signed by “Ram,” it arrives with no indication of its provenance: Helen does not know who has written it, or whether it has reached her by design or accident. The letter itself provides no clues. Helen marvels that the passion it expresses could be anyone’s: “I know I’m in love when I see you, I know when I long to see you…. I’m on fire. Is that too banal for you? It’s not, you know. You’ll see. It’s what happens. It’s what matters. I’m on fire…. You are all wrong for me, I know it, but I no longer care for my thoughts unless they’re thoughts of you.”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY, May 26, 1995
By Rebecca Asher-Walsh