Letters to Amelia. Book*hug
Lindsay Zier-Vogel’s Letters to Amelia, as its title suggests, is an exploration of intimacy across temporal barriers. The protagonist of Zier-Vogel’s novel, Grace, a library technician living and working in Toronto, is tasked with preparing a previously private collection of Amelia Earhart’s letters to her rumoured lover, Gene Vidal, for public display. Asked by her manager, Janice, to keep the project confidential to avoid unnecessary scandals prior to the public unveiling of these letters, Grace secretly reads and summarizes the collection, letter by letter, growing closer to Earhart’s celebrity as a pioneer of aviation, which is gradually overshadowed by what she learns about the famous pilot’s personal life.
This layering of the private with the public, the hidden with the disclosed, is further emphasized through Grace’s own unravelling of her personal tribulations: Grace is barely recovered from a difficult breakup with her long-term boyfriend when she finds out about an unplanned pregnancy. The intimacy between Grace, the reader, and Amelia, the writer, is further emphasized when Grace sees parallels of Amelia’s situation in her own life and begins to write letters to Amelia that express uncertainty regarding an unconventional path, but also solidarity in the face of societal pressures. Zier-Vogel’s novel thus asks readers to consider the relationship between secrecy and intimacy. Is secrecy necessary for creating a sense of intimacy? Can the intimacy created between Grace and these letters survive in the public sphere?
The answer to these questions may lie in the intertextuality of Zier-Vogel’s novel, which is created by various voices, including other characters who share information about Earhart, in addition to Grace’s and Amelia’s letters. Upon being asked to participate in the project, Grace admits to having “a vague picture of Amelia Earhart—a pilot, a feminist, icon, dead” (10). Despite her lack of familiarity with Earhart’s life, she begins to supplement the information divulged by Earhart with her own googling of the historical events and places mentioned in these letters. Grace soon finds that the intimacy she created by reading Amelia’s letters does not compare with the way Earhart is portrayed in the public eye. Hence, the role of “archives”—in both the physical sense of a university’s reading room as well as the digital access to information through unregulated websites—when it comes to disseminating information regarding a woman’s professional and personal life are under investigation in Zier-Vogel’s novel.
Despite the abundance of information that Grace finds about Amelia, Grace has an impulse to keep her letters confidential. At this point, one must ask, why the secrecy in the first place? From Grace’s mother’s disapproval at her decision to raise her child on her own to Earhart’s own confessions of vulnerability in the face of societal pressures, Letters to Amelia suggests a lack of public venues where women can comfortably express their burdens and successes. Here, Zier-Vogel refigures intimacy by displacing it from romantic relationships and situating it in the friendships women share with each other. As Grace grows closer to Earhart through her letters, she also begins to rely on her friends for both moral and practical support. The idea of love is indeed reclaimed in Zier-Vogel’s novel, most notably when Grace reads one of Amelia’s letters that says, “She was my first great love. Don’t laugh, she really was” (243). The “she” in this case is Amelia’s aircraft, supporting the idea that women can define what intimacy means to them.
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