The Hatbox Letters


354 pages
ISBN 0-676-97639-5
DDC C813'.6




Reviewed by Naomi Brun

Naomi Brun is a freelance writer and a book reviewer for The Hamilton


Beth Powning is the author of several acclaimed works of creative
non-fiction. Because she lives on a New Brunswick farm with her husband,
her work tends to reflect on the natural world and its relationship to
inner human development. The Hatbox Letters is her first novel.

More than a year after her husband passed away, Kate has not yet begun
to move through her grief. She has distanced herself from most of her
friends, rarely sees her children, and has essentially shut herself away
in the home that she and Tom built together. One day, her sister drops
off an unexpected gift: nine antique hatboxes containing family
photographs and letters from the time when her grandparents were young.

Over the course of the next few months, Kate works her way through the
contents of the hatboxes. She reads a tale of incalculable loss, and
learns that such tragedy doesn’t have to mean the end of love forever.
Generations ago, her great-grandfather counselled “If you send your
love into the grave … you will be as good to anyone, or to yourself,
as a windfall apple rotting in the grass … Return love when it comes
to you, and your heart will be eased.” Slowly, Kate learns to apply
this lesson to her own life, and finds the words to be as true in her
day as they were a hundred years earlier.

Powning’s realistic eye keeps The Hatbox Letters from falling into
schmaltz fiction. Kate re-enters the world bruised and damaged, and she
is sorely tested when she is at her most vulnerable.

Told with the voice of a poet, The Hatbox Letters is a wonderful
literary read.


Powning, Beth., “The Hatbox Letters,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed February 21, 2024,