The Secret Letters
by Abby Bardi
When thirty-seven-year-old slacker-chef Julie Barlow's mother dies, her older sister Pam finds a cache of old letters from someone who appears to be their mother's former lover. The date stamped on the letters combined with a difficult relationship with her father leads Julie to conclude that the letters' author was a Native American man named J. Fallingwater who must have been her real father.
Inspired by her new identity, Julie uses her small inheritance to make her dream come true: she opens a restaurant called Falling Water that is an immediate success, and life seems to be looking up. Her sister Norma is pressuring everyone to sell their mother's house, and her brother Ricky is a loveable drunk who has yet to learn responsibility, but the family seems to be turning a corner.
Then tragedy strikes, and Julie and her siblings have to stick together more than ever before. With all the secrets and setbacks, will Julie lose everything she has worked so hard for?
I was crossing Main Street one day on my way to work when I heard Pam’s ringtone on my cellphone, some rap song she’d downloaded for me. In addition to being smarter and better-looking than me, she was a whole lot cooler. A fat old guy on a Harley screamed at me for getting in his way, and I screamed back that he should go fuck himself, though since he was on a Harley, he couldn’t hear anything but his own pistons. Back in the day, my twin brother Donny and I had often buzzed through town like that on his brand new Triumph.
We thought we would live forever. And maybe he would have if he hadn’t ridden out alone on a rainy day, if he hadn’t skidded on the Beltway, if the truck had seen him. I tried not to think about it, but it was always with me. He was my twin, and ever since he died, part of me felt as if it was missing, like an arm or a leg, but invisible. When he first died, people told me to try talking to him like he was still there, and I did that for a while, but he didn’t seem to respond in any way and wherever he was now, he definitely wasn’t saying anything. I’d say I was glad my mother was with him now except that I don’t believe in stuff like that. They were both just gone.
For a few weeks after my mother’s funeral, people kept stopping by the house with sloppy tuna casseroles and stale cakes, but then they went back to their lives. I kept trying to go back to my life, too. Six days a week, I worked lunch or dinner or both, slept, then got up and did it again. It wasn’t like I was in the habit of seeing my mother every day, or even phoning her more than two or three times a week, so in a weird way, most of the time everything seemed the same. But on my day off when I would normally have stopped by the house for dinner, I was at loose ends. I’d go into the Wild Hare and sit at the bar, even though I wasn’t working, and maybe I got a little too hammered a few times, and Milo, my boss, had to walk me home, though lucky for him I lived just across the street.
“I’m late to work,” I said to Pam. “What’s up?”
“I have to show you something. Come over here when you get off.”
“That’s after midnight.”
“Just do it.”
“Where am I going?” I asked, though I had no intention of doing what she wanted.
Abby will be awarding an eCopy of The Secret Letters to 3 randomly drawn winners via rafflecopter during the tour.
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Choose a character to represent each of the four seasons (and why).
What a great question! It’s funny how sections of The Secret Letters correspond to the elements (earth, air, fire, and water), and it takes place over the course of a year, so events occur in each season, but I never thought about choosing a character for each season. But it works perfectly! Here we go.
The novel begins with a funeral: Julie Barlow’s mother Cynthia has just died, and it’s not clear how Julie and her siblings are going to function without her, especially Ricky, the “baby” (though he’s thirty), who can’t seem to do anything for himself. It’s a wintry scene where everything familiar has died and life seems hopeless. The Winter character here is Cynthia: although she’s gone, her memory casts a cold, dark shadow on the lives of her children.
The Spring character is definitely Ricky: he’s adorable, but not the sharpest tack in the box, so he views everything with incurable optimism. It’s obvious to his sisters that he thinks he’s going to be able to go on living in Cynthia’s house, but the plan is to sell it and split the proceeds. But Ricky lives in a dream world. “Where’s my dream world?” Julie’s sister Pam asks. Julie tells her that Ricky gets to have a dream world because he’s the baby. For him, it’s always spring, and hope springs eternal.
The Summer character is Pam. Blond and confident, she’s full of energy, able to work full-time as a lawyer but somehow find time to tend bar at the restaurant that Julie opens on Main Street. Like the summer sun, she warms the lives of those around her, though if they cross her, they may experience an unpleasant degree of heat.
The Fall character is Julie, the narrator. She’s aware of the many losses in her life—her mother, her stepfather, and her twin brother Donny, who died twenty years before in a motorcycle accident. She’s aware of the changes to her town, where farmers’ meadows have been turned into fields of townhouses and her old schoolhouse is now condos. She understands that things have to change—people die, leaves fall, inevitably, her mother’s house will be sold, and she will have to let go of life as she’s known it so far. But she doesn’t have to be happy about that. Yet at the same time, she’s aware that changes lead to opportunities, and when she opens her restaurant, she is confident she can make something positive out of all her losses. But can she?
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AUTHOR Bio and Links:
Abby Bardi is the author of THE BOOK OF FRED. She grew up in Chicago, went to college in California, then spent a decade teaching English in Japan and England. She currently teaches at a college in Maryland and lives in historic Ellicott City with her husband and dog.