Reviewed by Regina Lordan
Catholic News Service
"Love and Salt: A Spiritual Friendship Shared in Letters" is a bittersweet book about conversion, faith, love and loss told in beautifully crafted letters between two young women. It is hard not to treat this book, so uncommonly honest, almost with reverence, for within its pages lies such personal and raw emotion that treating it with anything less would feel wrong.
The book is a collection of nearly three years of letters between Amy Andrews, a writer and mathematics teacher at Northwestern University, and Jessica Mesman Griffith, who is also a writer. Andrews and Griffith met each other in a graduate class and formed a friendship over their mutual interest in writing about God.
One Lenten season, as Andrews was preparing to become a Catholic with Griffith as her sponsor, the two promised each other to write a letter for every day of Lent. And so the correspondence began, but did not stop. Their letters became a forum for their spiritual friendship and as a platform for personal disclosures about life, death, faith and doubt.
Unique within its genre, "Salt and Life" simultaneously takes the reader on an examination of Catholicism and spirituality while investing the reader in the characters’ happiness as their lives unfold in the letters. Within the context of their journeys — both joyous and unbelievably tragic — the women discuss theology, many times quoting the writings of St. Teresa of Avila, Pope Benedict XVI and J.R.R. Tolkien.
This line from a letter from Andrews helps illustrate the book: "We press God out in the pages of our letters, ironing and ironing, like two old-fashioned women. We mail him back and forth, and pile him up, like a basket of linen." The women use their letters to iron out God and to unravel a knot of confusion and doubt about faith amid careers and motherhood.
Andrews and Griffith are clever and descriptive writers, and their different writing styles keep the book interesting for readers looking for entertainment and those looking for education.
Andrews’ letters are long and thick with ruminations about heaven, doubt and spirituality. She is the deep thinker, the one responsible for the lengthy St. Teresa quotes. On the other hand, Griffith’s letters are oftentimes short and bittersweet. They are peppered with humor, self-deprecation and beautifully vivid memories of her childhood.
But perhaps what made the book so special was its ending. Rarely does a book conclude poetically and thoughtfully. Lately, it seems trendy and expected for television series, movies and books to end abruptly, open-ended or sloppily. But not "Love and Salt." The authors end the book with grace, grief, hope and reflection.
"Love and Salt: A Spiritual Friendship Shared in Letters" by Amy Andrews and Jessica Mesman Griffith. Loyola Press (Chicago, 2013). 368 pp., $14.95.
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Lordan is a former assistant international editor of Catholic News Service.
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