This Is How I’d Love You: A Novel. Hazel Woods. Penguin Group (USA). August 2014. 320 pp. ISBN#: 9780142181485.
Hensley Dench has a “modern” relationship with her father in pre-WWI America; they share intellectual ideas and Hensley is proud of his anti-war writing for the New York Times. He’s also an avid chess player and begins a correspondence with Charles Reid, an American medic, in which they briefly talk about current politics and news, in each letter adding a single chess move to their game played from afar.
Hensley meanwhile has developed her considerable sewing skills and applied them to being accepted as a costume designer for a high school drama club’s productions. The director takes advantage of her naiveté and the consequences are devastating to Hensley, compounded by the fact that her father is fired from his journalism position when America enters the war. He’s now a German-American pacifist who is forced to accept a managerial position of a mine in New Mexico, and they are forced to move there in order to survive. From the vibrant lively streets of Manhattan, Hensley is hard put to find beauty in the stark, bleak New Mexican desert-like atmosphere. She finds partial friendship and conversation with a woman and her brother but it’s a world strange to her metropolitan background, a world to which she opens to perceive and react accordingly.
One small idea germinates into the pivotal point in this novel. Hensley begins to add her own lines in between her father’s lines in his letters to Charles Reid. This introduces a poetic, informative and romantic phase into their lives, one direly awaited by Charles, who with his friend are finding the brutality of this war almost unbearable. The notes back and forth between Charles and Hensley are philosophical in many ways, fostered by pivotal questions arising out of war and peace, ugliness and beauty, and more.
The rest of the novel concerns the choices arising from the death of a loved one, the wounds crippling young men, the difficulties in forging one’s way when numerous obstacles seem to mandate unhappy, resigned choices, and an ultimate decision to unite when the barriers seem insurmountable.
A microcosmic world constantly inundated by the effects of WWI, Hensley and Charles Reid’s surroundings convey the power to totally dehumanize or strengthen the essential connection to human ideas and love of life. These dynamic characters slowly but dramatically embrace the latter in a memorable story that celebrates the human spirit’s ability to do more than survive the vicissitudes of war. This Is How I Love You: A Novel is a celebration of those heroic steps that we remember and honor. Beautiful, literate historical fiction that this reviewer highly recommends!