Tick tock, folks! The future is almost here!
It’s hard to believe that 2020 is upon us. To me, that date has always seemed to belong to science fiction, a time we can only imagine. Shall we bravely embrace this new world, or retreat into a bygone time, to something more familiar, if not to us directly, then to our ancestors? The good news is that you may come into A. K. Smiley Public Library and find materials with which to jump into the future or to escape into the past.
There is no better place to delve into yesteryear than the library’s Heritage Room. A treasure trove of local history of our town and its surrounding areas, you may discover examples of local stories ranging from broad topics to the minutiae of everyday life. A colleague of mine recently told me of a collection of letters being cataloged there, letters exchanged during World War II between two Iowan sweethearts while he was serving abroad and she was attending college. They married after the war, making Redlands their home in 1968. These letters will be available soon for viewing by those of us who wish to retreat from the great unknown of the 21st century and revisit the familiar themes of our youth or that of our family.
Of course, letter-writing was a common mode of communication in the WWII era. I wondered what else in the library might use this now older format, but in a literary way. You may be familiar with well-known novels like Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” or Stephen King’s “Carrie,” as novels that use not only letters as story-telling devices but also forms such as diaries and newspaper clippings.
Smiley Library’s new book collection contains many of these epistolary novels, as they’re called. Not surprisingly, some use letter-writing in the themes of WWII, like our Redlands couple did. “Home Front Girls” by Suzanne Hayes and Loretta Nyhan is one such work. Completely comprised of letters, it tells the stories of two women, the spouses left at home to wonder, worry and wait. Glory is a young mother of a toddler in Massachusetts. Rita, in Iowa, has a grown son and a husband who is really too old to go to war, but does anyway.
The great conflicts of this time and its trauma, for those at war and at home, fosters a deep bond between the two women. Their characters are drawn by use of the introspective quality inherent in the composing a letter, as well as the empathetic; each writer is compelled to consider her correspondent’s point of view. There is no omniscient narrator to tell their story; they essentially tell their own. Just as with the artifacts of our Redlands couple, epistolary novels tend to create realism, not only for the characters but for us readers too.
Now for those of us willing to look into the uncertain future, a new sci-fi book, “This Is How You Lose the Time War,” by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone, is set in an era of our descendants during a war taking place across time and space. In this poetic novella, also using the device of letters, we learn in dispatches between rival super-agents named “Red” and “Blue” that even enemies can find common ground in sharing and inquiring through a letter. Red seems to sum up the intent of the epistolary form when she shares that those in her faction, “… think in public. Our notions inform one another, correct, expand, reform. Which is why we win.” Hmm, maybe we needn’t fear 2020 and beyond; maybe the past and the future aren’t so disparate after all.