A Letter in the Wall
by Eileen Brill
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Pub Date 24 May 2022 | Archive Date 29 Jul 2022
Born into a prominent Philadelphia Quaker family in 1915 and raised with privilege and opportunity, Joan wrestles with her turbulent thoughts and unfulfilled desires—an internal battle that often results in self-destructive tendencies. When she attempts to push against the norms for women of her time in order to forge her own identity, she is met with resistance. Yet she might also be her own worst enemy, often alienating those who care deeply for her. Both manipulative and vulnerable, naive and conniving, Joan is, like many people, complex and misunderstood.
Inspired by a letter written by the real Joan, found hidden in the wall of a Pennsylvania home more than half a century later, this story is a fictionalized imagining of who she was and what motivated her. Moving through several decades and events—from the 1918 influenza pandemic to Prohibition to the Great Depression to Vietnam—A Letter in the Wall examines the internal and external factors that influence one woman’s journey toward independence and empowerment.
Great for fans of Benilde Little’s Who Does She Think She Is?, Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko, and Leslye Walton’s The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender.
A Note From the Publisher
In 2007, shortly after I moved into my house, an electrician found an old, tattered envelope in a wall as he was installing a new outlet. The envelope seemed to have been sealed then reopened, but certainly never mailed, as it was addressed to someone in another state. Inside the envelope, I found an undated, handwritten letter on personalized stationary. Some cursory internet research revealed that the letter-writer, Joan, and her family were the first residents of my house, built in 1920. The letter was likely written when she was a teenager in the early 1930s.
I became driven by the desire to know Joan, to understand why she never mailed the letter, and what her relationship was with the boy to whom the letter was written. But, more importantly, I was struck by the trajectory her life seemed to have taken based on the scant information I was able to uncover. What began as my attempt at a biography ended up as a work of fiction, and, though the novel spans seven decades, it falls into a slightly different genre than “historical fiction”. Perhaps more accurately, it is psychological fiction, a historical mystery, with an imagining of who Joan was and what motivated her. The story explores her life and the decisions which resulted in both her evolution and her demise.
As it is based on a real person, there are snippets of truth throughout the story, small parcels of information I picked up while researching this woman. So that’s real-life, which can be messy and fraught. And, the sad reality of the situation is that the actual woman on whom the story is based was, in fact, murdered.
But, the story has elements of tenderness, humor and redemption, as well as nods to Joan’s positive traits and her evolution. She is an anti-heroine, though perhaps also a “first-wave” feminist before there was a name for that. The reader wants her to succeed as she attempts to push back against societal norms, yet she can be her own worst enemy. While not always likeable, Joan is relatable and complex, and her longings are palpable.
A Letter in the Wall provides great fodder for discussions on nature vs. nurture, women’s issues, family life and empathy.
“With A Letter in the Wall, Eileen Brill poignantly explores how the decisions we make, or don’t make, can change the course of our lives forever."—Lene Fogelberg, Wall Street Journal bestselling author of Beautiful Affliction
"This well-crafted story captures the life of an emotionally wounded, often calculating woman in her search for self-worth, respect, and fulfillment. It is a page turner not to be missed."—Judith Teitelman, award-winning author of Guesthouse for Ganesha
“A fascinating story about a relatable character that reminds us of the ways in which women's choices are shaped either by the expectations placed upon them or their rebellion against those expectations."—Jessica Levine, author of The Geometry of Love, a Top 10 Women's Fiction Title in Booklist Nothing Forgotten, Winner of Next Generation Indie Book Award
"Told with a tender nod to the days of the past, A Letter in the Wall is a story of a young woman’s journey toward independence and empowerment. Fans of historical fiction will enjoy this poignant debut by Eileen Brill."—Nicole Meier, author of The Second Chance Supper Club
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