Book Review – Letters from the Closet by Amy Hollingsworth
I was first introduced to Amy’s writing when I bought “The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers” at Walmart because I was in the mood for a soothing read and I heard a rumor that the author lived local to me. Next I read another of her books (Gifts of Passage: What the Dying tell us With the Gifts They Leave Behind) because it was lent to me by my gynecologist who said another of her patients wrote it..needless to say I felt a strange and awkward intimacy with her after that (I’m kidding, and if I were a better write myself I wouldn’t have to point that out) and one of the stories in that book was about a young lad who I knew of in real life. Our numerous mutual local friends on social media finally overlapped for us to become virtual friends enough that I gave her son a desk and I was invited to write this review for you fine people.
Yet Amy and I have never met or stood in the same room at the same time – welcome to the 21st century.
I point out the typical distance of our modern day friendship because the friendship that Amy writes of in this book was lived & recorded in a way that likely wouldn’t happen today – with ink written onto paper and sent in the mail. Like Amy, I was (and on a good day still am) a letter writer and a letter saver. I have had powerful and pivotal moments in my life when I needed to dig into a box of rough-edged envelopes to revisit and rediscover a time that had been lost with the person I exchanged the letters with and at the time I said that reading the letters ” was like visiting an old friend”. I also felt a kinship with the story because it was written by the survivor of the relationship after the death of the other person; between the families I care for and myself, I have spent a lot of time sifting through the feelings of those left behind.
The story is multi faceted and is being reviewed by folks with different points of view and I encourage you to Google some of the other reviews. One major focus for some people is that the friend (John) she exchanged these letters with was a gay man who was her former teacher (thus a bit older than her). That gets some people worked up (enough so that some Christian* outlets wont carry the book) but my only interest in that detail was that it created a fascinating and unchangeable circumstance where romantic/physical love between them was unlikely thus their friendship was pushed into more intellectual, emotional, interpersonal, and spiritual intimacy with words (some spoken, but mostly written).
I experienced personal angst while reading it when Amy described how she left Catholicism to find Jesus. I met Jesus in Protestantism but later found what I came to see as a more complete and full expression of Christianity in Catholicism. I didn’t react in angst because I thought she was headed into error, my reaction was closer to “where were the Catholics in her life who were supposed to teach her how to apply the faith to real situations? where did we fail her?”. I’m reminded then that God finds us on our path and speaks to us in language we can understand.
In order to get to the good parts of the book where she spins the straw of misery into the gold of wisdom (a metaphor borrowed from the book where she speaks of love), one must first wade through the awkwardness of the details of the misery itself and it is palpably painful mostly due to the unshaking bravery of Amy to tell the whole ugly truth. Part of this is her unflinching honesty about John’s often crass remarks and attitudes (he came off as a huge butt-head at times – I can’t start to imagine the temptation she must have had to present him as a more likable person).
I would not have been as brave with my ugly truth as she was and because I’m not willing to give gory details, you will never know the deep primitive places in my soul this book ministered to as I got to the end and recognized the fruit of the pain that was endured – you will have to read it for yourself and apply the lessons to the dark places you might be too cowardly to admit out loud.
I encourage you to visit Amy’s Amazon page and learn about her books (you seriously need to read the Mister Rogers book if you haven’t yet) :
(* I hate the term “Christian book store” because approx half of Christendom is Catholic and many of these stores carry virtually no Catholic texts with a token distant dusty shelf reserved for 2 rosaries and an ugly statue (that no one will buy anyway). If I ran the world they would be called “Protestant book stores” but since I don’t run the world, we are not in any danger of that happening anytime soon. Carry on and thank you for indulging my rant.)
- Posted in: Uncategorized