Commentary
5:00 am
Mon February 11, 2013

Book Review: Frances and Bernard

Frances and Bernard by Carlene Bauer was inspired by the friendship of Flannery O'Connor and the poet Robert Lowell.

In this fictionalized version, the characters Frances Reardon and Bernard Eliot meet at a writer's colony in 1957, and through their letters we follow their lives through the next decade.

Frances is a fiction writer who avoids marriage because she does not want to turn into her aunts, who cook, clean and raise their Irish clans in homes filled with laughter. Frances is not unkind, but neither does she suffer fools. Bernard is a poet who wants more than anything to have a relationship with God. Bernard suffers from mental illness, and when he is romantically rejected by Frances, has a falling out with his faith.

Frances and Bernard is filled with thoughtful banter, apologetics, and a deep and almost-lasting friendship. One of the best features of this novel is its form. Seeing a friendship develop through letters is simply a lovely experience. Just following the change from, "Sincerely, Frances," to, "Love, Frances," can help the reader see the larger story unfold.

Letter writing is a lost art. Today's text messages are abrupt and often misconstrued. They save time, but how many times do we regret pushing "send"? On the other hand, letter writing allows the writer to be careful. To send a thought, you have to put pen to paper, address an envelope, find a stamp, and then get it to a mailbox. This safety net allows plenty of time for regret... and anticipation for the next letter.

Frances and Bernard is a story of friendship found, love found, and love and friendship lost. Theirs was a slow beginning and a thoughtful ending. If deep and careful thought still ruled the day, we might have a lower divorce rate-- and Saturday postal service.