Book Review and Giveaway: This Familiar Heart by Babette Fraser Hale

THIS FAMILIAR HEART:
AN IMPROBABLE LOVE STORY
by
Babette Fraser Hale
Memoir / Relationships / Aging / Grief
Publisher: Winedale Publishing
Date of Publication: April 2, 2024
Number of Pages: 312 pages

In this intimate rendering of a relationship, we learn how deceptive surface impressions can be.

Leon Hale, author of Bonney’s Place, was sixty years old, a “country boy” who wrote about rural Texans with humor and sensitivity in his popular column for The Houston Post and, later the Houston Chronicle. Babette Fraser at thirty-six was a child of privilege, a city girl educated abroad, struggling in her career while raising a young son. No one thought it could work.

Even Hale himself held serious doubts. But it did endure. The interior congruencies they discovered through a long and turbulent courtship knit them tightly together for the rest of his life.

And when he died during the Pandemic isolation period, searing levels of grief and doubt threatened Babette’s understanding of the partnership and marriage that had sustained her for forty years. Had he really been the person she thought he was? Had he kept secrets that would forever change her view of him?

In candid, evocative prose, she explores the distorted perceptions that often follow the death of a cherished spouse, and the loving resolution that allows life to go on.

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[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NYyc2I1dePQ?si=9KqdW8Q6RSIvj28p]
Review Header
This Familiar Heart is the story of Babette Fraser and Leon Hale. Hale, as he preferred to be called, first encountered Babette when she wrote a letter in response to his newspaper column. She was a writer, too, and she had a request that led to them meeting in person. Thus began the slow burn to a love that spanned decades.

Part love story, part memoir (and I’m not sure you can really separate the two), Babette Hale spins the tale of their lives growing together in third person, interspersed with snippets in first person – her commentary on things, if you will. The third person portions read like some of the best romantic fiction I’ve ever laid eyes on. These two people from very different backgrounds, different places in life, with a sizable age gap between them, and this marvelous love story grows from the smallest and most improbable of seeds. The way Babette describes the energy between her and Hale, the way he makes her feel, the language she uses is just luminous. Even when they have hard conversations, even when they’re sharing things they fear may drive them apart, the words are gentle. It’s like they both realize how deeply they care for each other and are trying not to wound, being mindful of the other’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities even before they’re really sure what direction their relationship is heading.

I really enjoyed their communication by letter. While my husband and I aren’t that dissimilar in upbringing or age, we were both divorced when we met. Like Hale, my divorce wasn’t yet final. We lived about 90 miles apart when we met (online!), and we both had jobs, and I had my young son, so we had to choose carefully when we’d burn up the road between us. We spent a lot of time writing emails to each other and talking on the phone (this was before unlimited talk and text was a thing, and I actually added him to my cell phone plan so we could talk for free! There, now I’m just dating myself). You learn a lot about a person through letters, and so it was for Hale and Babette. It’s easier sometimes to be open, both about how you really feel and about things you’re struggling with, in writing. You can choose your words carefully and particularly, and they did.

And while the ending was fraught with grief (and what is grief but love without its object?), I thought this was the best summing-up of a life well lived and loved that anyone could ask for:

“We were happy. How can a man and a woman together do better than that?”

From the story she gives us about their life, it certainly sounds like, through it all, Hale and Babette were happy. May we all be able to say that at the end of our best relationships.

Babette Fraser Hale is the author of A Wall of Bright Dead Feathers, 2022 winner of the debut fiction award from the Texas Institute of Letters. Her stories have received notice from Best American Short Stories, 2015 and the Meyerson Award from Southwest Review. In addition to writing fiction, Babette has been a magazine feature writer, columnist, contributing editor, book editor, and publisher. She lives in Texas.

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One Response to Book Review and Giveaway: This Familiar Heart by Babette Fraser Hale

  1. Ahhh, letter writing. How my husband and I connected, too. Letters then email, and you’re right, you learn so much and reveal so much when it’s in writing. Thanks for a great review. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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