This Is How I'd Love You: A Novel

Paperback | July 6, 2016

byHazel Woods

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As the Great War rages, an independent young woman struggles to sustain love—and life—through the power of words.
 
It’s 1917 and America is on the brink of World War I. After Hensley Dench’s father is forced to resign from the New York Times for his anti-war writings, she finds herself expelled from the life she loves and the future she thought she would have. Instead, Hensley is transplanted to New Mexico, where her father has taken a job overseeing a gold mine. Driven by loneliness, Hensley hijacks her father’s correspondence with Charles Reid, a young American medic with whom her father plays chess via post. Hensley secretly begins her own exchange with Charles, but looming tragedy threatens them both, and—when everything turns against them—will their words be enough to beat the odds?

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From the Publisher

As the Great War rages, an independent young woman struggles to sustain love—and life—through the power of words. It’s 1917 and America is on the brink of World War I. After Hensley Dench’s father is forced to resign from the New York Times for his anti-war writings, she finds herself expelled from the life she loves and the future she...

Hazel Woods lives in New Mexico with her husband and two children.

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:320 pages, 8 × 5.25 × 0.69 inPublished:July 6, 2016Publisher:Penguin Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:014218148X

ISBN - 13:9780142181485

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Customer Reviews of This Is How I'd Love You: A Novel

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Rated 5 out of 5 by from An absolutely amazing love story Charles Reid is from a wealthy family, and despite their disapproval, after graduating from university, he enlists to fight for America in World War I. Because of his passion for chess, he enters a mail chess program to play the game with an antiwar journalist named Sacha Dench. Charles posts his first move before leaving for the front in France. This trivial pastime explodes into something great ? with incredible results. When her father loses his job, Hensley, Sacha's seventeen year old daughter, is sent into a tailspin. Her entire life is forced into upheaval as they leave the only home she has known to move across the country. In a moment of boredom, Hensley writes a few words in the margins of her father?s next letter to her father?s chess partner, Charles. Intrigued, Charles responds, and what transpires are an exchange of letters that soon blossom into a potent love between them. Separated by war and distance, these two lovers struggle to survive the conflicts they face in their personal lives. With intense twists and turns and plot twists, this love story blossoms into a powerful, unforgettable narrative that is deeply redolent and intensely poignant. This book is literally unputdownable! This is a stunning debut novel, gripping, vibrant, and so real, that the novel is truly unforgettable. It is one of the most powerful love stories I?ve ever read and will linger in my mind for years to come. This is truly excellence in writing and very highly recommended!
Date published: 2014-09-18

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Read from the Book

Part OneThe docks are flooded with deep, black puddles. Men move quickly, their nerves numbed by their hurry. The French steamer awaiting them appears massive and gray and gloomy. Its twin black stacks convey the seriousness of the day. Charles stands shoulder to shoulder with other Field Service volunteers, all of their overcoats darkened by the rain. These stoic faces of theirs are a sham. His eyes scanning the crowd, Charles notes that none of them look the part of warriors, least of all him. Instead, they only need mortarboards and graduation gowns to betray that their most recent barracks were the dorm rooms overlooking idyllic quadrangles of Ivy League alma maters. They have the sloping shoulders and occasionally bespectacled eyes of intellectuals and idealists, motivated by the injustices they’ve read about in newspapers and seen on film reels in their dormitory’s lounge. Their own country, after all, had yet to stand up to the tyranny overseas when they signed their contracts two months ago. But their faces are somber in the attempt to convey the look of the men that they hope to be. We are the serious ones. The first. The bravest. The ones who will represent America as it should be. But then, without warning, a nervous giggle will begin at the front of the line and travel all along, the joke always something juvenile, about the rain camouflaging those among them who would soon mess their trousers, or the crimson scent of a Harvard man’s flatulence.Charles smiles and crams his hands into his pockets, trying to imagine the familiar pattern of the chessboard. It is a welcome respite from the useless conjecture his mind makes about what will greet them in a week’s time when they land in Bordeaux. He’d been taught to play chess on his father’s onyx set and he remembers those long afternoons pleasantly, the fire dying down, his father’s whiskey replenished regularly, the family dog sighing loudly in a dream. While at Harvard, Charles played in a bridge club as well as a Sunday afternoon chess bracket, but only once since coming home from college had he and his father played on the onyx set in the parlor. It had ended badly, with his father excusing himself a move before checkmate, claiming he was late for an appointment across town. Which was why, when he’d gone for his physical at the Rockefeller Institute, the notice posted by the Women’s Auxiliary caught his eye. They were offering to match volunteers with civilians in a pen-pal arrangement. Charles took down the number and placed a call to a woman who agreed to search for a chess partner for him.After the very first letter, however, Charles understood his opponent was hardly the kind of dutiful patriot he’d expected to volunteer for such an assignment. A journalist by trade, Mr. Sacha Dench of West Thirteenth Street made it clear in that first letter, which was mailed just weeks before Congress’s war vote, that he was a pacifist and would work every day to prevent the United States from entering the war, that he found anyone who would volunteer to participate either daft or tragically misinformed, but also that he did not think personal sacrifice should go unnoticed, however foolish.As Charles considers their current board and his opponent’s ruthlessness, he further understands that the endeavor may not be as charitable as he’d first expected. Mr. Dench has taken one of Charles’s pawns in the third move of the game, their bishops facing one another and the next move of utter importance. Charles must be wary of the temptation to play too aggressively, putting his own pieces at risk in the next turn, which, he senses, is probably his opponent’s strategy. A classic lure. But playing like this, without body language or eye contact, is a new challenge. And knowing that Mr. Dench thinks him either “daft” or “tragically misinformed” has shaken his confidence. He posted his latest move yesterday with the timidity of a boy, turning over all of his options in his mind once more before he had the nerve to seal the envelope.Now, as the order comes that they will embark momentarily, he tries to reassure himself that he’s made the right move. He wants to win. He wants to prove the guy wrong. About everything.When they are thoroughly drenched and their duffels are carrying more water than supplies, the whistle sounds and they board the ship.They stand on the deck, smoking, waiting. There are several women still on the docks, holding big black umbrellas and white linen handkerchiefs. For the love of their brothers or husbands, their betrothed or sons, they shake their linens. A stupid tradition, Charles thinks. Melodramatic; fruitless. But he also looks around, searching the deck for the men who are waving back, the men to whom those limp, white hankies are declarations of love, the pale quivering of passionate hearts.His thoughts linger only briefly on his mother and father, the croquet party they’d planned for their weekend guests in the country, now ruined by the weather. The mood there will be black for many reasons, not just their bitter disappointment about his “foolish, crassly transparent rebellion.” It’s better that they’re not here, he thinks, as he wonders what move Mr. Dench will make and how long it will take for it to find him in France.The ship pulls away from the dock and it appears as though the island of Manhattan is the one being set afloat, being cast out to sea. Hard to tell that the ship is even moving. Soon enough, the horizon is blurred out by the storm and they seem to exist in a vast tunnel, ever darkening, ever deepening, only the black sea in sight.Hensley Dench feels the train inside of her. Its wheels turn and its axles move deep in the dark places that no one can see. Its rhythm, its power, its forward motion. It is already the second day of their journey, the twenty-ninth hour: New York is so far away it is a dream. A dirty, shiny scrap of a place that she’s made up in her girlish imagination. Now there is only this sky, a huge cistern of blue that clouds over in the afternoons, turning dark and ominous, like a tragic grand finale to each day. They sleep on their berths, she and her father, as the night sky unfolds itself, dumps huge buckets of rain and then returns in the morning, so blue and optimistic it hurts.There are pieces of soldiers on this train. Photographs and letters tucked into breast pockets, hidden between carefully folded sweaters; tokens, marbles, flasks. Each passenger is either remotely or intimately connected with a boy bound for the war. Her father keeps a piece of one in his coat pocket. The curving black lines of Mr. Charles Reid’s handwriting reveal that he is unwavering in his convictions. He wants to know if Mr. Dench is a believer and if he is, will he pray for him. Will he pray for the souls of the men who are blown back by guns that remain unseen?And then, eventually, he reveals his next move. He will move his queen’s pawn two. This is what her father’s been waiting for. He sets up the chessboard like an altar, arranging the pieces exactly as they were when he made his last move, via post, ten days ago.He places his inkwell beside the board and removes a piece of paper from his satchel. Hensley has her own paper in front of her, sketching dresses she no longer needs. A narrow velvet skirt, perfect for the theater, worn with a silk lampshade tunic and a single strand of long, perfectly black beads. Her own take on the Fortuny tea gown, made from crepe and pleated everywhere except on the front placket, where she’d inlay a silk ruffle. After a time, though, these drawings irk her. She is restless and distracted.Hensley stands between cars and throws off pieces of the roll she saved from lunch. The bread tumbles quickly down into the ravine on one side of the tracks and it gives her a jolt of adrenaline. If she herself were a soldier, standing between cars on a train somewhere in Europe—Russia or Austria or France or Britain—she would think of following that bread crumb. Or more likely a cigarette tossed away in a masculine gesture of disinterest; useless, now vanquished. Cartwheeling herself off of the thundering, monotonous machine into nature’s terrain where the worms and rodents and wolves and snakes could dismantle her without an audience, without leaving her stench to spread across crowded trenches, into, even, the letters back home.When her father is asleep, Hensley will read his reply. She will lift Mr. Reid’s letter to her face and try to smell something of a person whose life is not beholden to a parent. A life in which one’s decisions are one’s own. Then she will scan her father’s black scrawl to see what he’s told the boy about belief.God is and always has been a substitute for true belief. For sacrificing and forsaking ego in the service of real & actual good. God feeds men’s egos, giving them more self-importance than they deserve. If, in fact, there were a God who was almighty and all-knowing, this being would not tolerate humans speaking for him. The fact that religion requires belief above rationality renders it useless to me. God, it seems, is actually the antithesis of thought, which is what I hold sacred. But as I close my eyes and listen to the machinery beneath my feet, I ask for your body and soul to be safe. I know not of whom I ask this, but if my thoughts have any power outside of myself, let us call this God. Take no offense from an old man’s heresy, please.Be advised that just as you are embarking for Europe, my daughter and I are on our way west. Fortunes demand my relocation, at least temporarily, to Hillsboro, New Mexico. You may write to me there, care of the Ready Pay mine. My next move is my queen’s knight to QB4.Even for a desperate man, who fears his own eyes will be a soft, easy meal for shit-colored rats as soon as the right bullet finds him, Hensley’s father will not lie. Hensley cannot help being both ashamed and awed by his conviction as she reads. She will have empathy for Mr. Reid because she knows her own eagerness to hear words of comfort from her father. Her own efforts to evoke reassurances, even on this trip, even as they boarded the train in Pennsylvania Station, even as they entered the dark tunnel beneath the Hudson and saw the skyline recede as they emerged, have failed. How she has longed for words of encouragement from her father. She knows nothing more of their destination than what he’s told Mr. Reid. Her idea of New Mexico comes only from the Winnetou novels her brother loved as a child. But surely, she reasons, as she stares at her father’s script, even if they are living in tents among bison and mustangs, it will be better than walking every day past the school, its wide double doors framing the scene of her heartbreak.As she reads her father’s letter, she will not be able to stop herself from scribbling her own empty words of sunny optimism, tucked into her father’s wide margins. You will come home soon, stronger and wiser. You’re fighting for all of us. Your pen pal is a rabid pacifist with a dead wife, an estranged son, and a deviant daughter; pay him no attention. What you must do is believe with all your heart that you can come home and when you do, all the horror that surrounds you now will recede into a past that you can leave behind as simply as a train leaves a depot.As she lets the air whip at her cheeks, she thinks of what her brother has told her he knows of the atrocities at the front. Silent gas attacks that leave the trenches full of blinded, gasping soldiers; conditions so wet and filthy that boys’ feet begin to rot inside of their boots; engorged French rats who scurry at night across sleeping soldiers’ hands. She imagines what those creatures must think of their sudden change of fortune. What tremendous luck! Humanity’s brutality like a lottery for these rodents, who, for generations, scrounge only nuts and rotten fruit, the occasional dead lizard or fallen baby bird, and now this: a bounty so outrageous, so warm and fresh, so plentiful and gorgeous it could make even a rat believe in God.The conductor finds her in between cars, half a dinner roll becoming sticky in her palm.“Are you ill, miss?” he shouts above the noise of the train.She shakes her head. “Just taking some air.”“Passengers should remain inside one of the cars. Can I help you back to your berth? Would you care for some seltzer from the dining car?”Hensley nods again. He extends his arm, waiting for her to take it. The wind is at her back, throwing her hair into her face, where it clings to her lips. She pictures the glass, the train’s silhouette etched into it, the bubbles from the seltzer fizzing over the rim.She turns away from the conductor, putting her face into the wind, shutting her eyes, and letting the world go black. She feels him move closer to her. He is worried. Is her heartache so apparent that he thinks she might actually jump? That he might have to watch her tumble down the embankment at dreadful angles and terrible speed, her skirt ripping, her face aghast? And the momentum of the train a near impossible thing to stop, here in the middle of, where? Kansas? Illinois? To have to jog through the cars—his brow sweating, his heart galloping, his fingers numb—all the way to the engineer so that they can heave the heavy metal wheels to a stop and send out the crew to reclaim her body.The passengers would wonder what had happened. Indignant, they’d complain about delays and incompetence. Then a rumor would spread quickly from car to car. Their faces would press against the glass, their hearts both eager and afraid. A glimpse of dark color in the grass would elicit small gasps from every woman. But they’d all disembark at their final destinations with a story to tell, an unanswered question, and the relief that it was not them, or one of their own.Hensley opens her eyes and the conductor’s hand is on her shoulder. “Miss,” he says again, his voice now close to her ear. She opens her fingers and lets the roll go. She turns her face toward his.“I just needed the air.” The warmth of his hand makes her throat feel tight, her skin hot.He smiles. She threads her arm through his and he yanks hard on the lever to open the door. “Thank you,” she says, as he ushers her through the train car, like a groom retreating from the altar, newly married. When they’ve reached her place, he lets her go.A waiter brings the seltzer to her. She has pulled her feet out of her shoes and tucked them underneath her. Holding the glass near her face, she lets the bubbles jump and cling to her nose and chin. Hensley closes her eyes, tired. She thinks of her school friends, choosing bathing costumes and readying their trunks for summer travel. Swim caps and unsanctioned novels stuffed into little hollows between skirts and shoes. To the shore, to the lake, to anyplace where there are waves and ice cream and umbrellas. She thinks of Lowe, who is surely already in Maine, already riding his bike barefooted, unashamed of his civilian status. Spreading blankets for some other girl under ancient branches and handing her a peach, a handkerchief, a flask.“Brooding?” her father says.She does not open her eyes. “Emphatically.”She feels him lean across her and open the window, filling their area with the noise and heat of the prairie rushing by outside. She tastes grass and dirt and metal in the back of her throat and brings the water to her lips to wash it away, but it lingers.“I prefer it closed,” she says.Her father sighs. She can tell he has already settled back in front of the chessboard, trying to predict the future. Before he’s even handed the letter off to be posted at the next stop, he’s already imagining all the possible moves the boy on his way to the front has open to him, moves he may never get to make.He stands anyway and closes the window for her.Hensley thinks of the letters Lowell had said they would write to each other. They were backstage, before the final curtain. His breath warmed her ear even as he said nothing. She’d turned her face to his, smelling the pomade from his hair. You will write, won’t you? When I’m in New Mexico? She’d understood the way his eyes narrowed, the way they seemed to swallow her own words as an affirmative answer.That was before. She knew better than to expect a letter now. But, still, she hoped.What might she say in reply, if he did write?Dear Lowe—she imagines the letters on the page—I want to throw myself from the train because of you. I would have given up Wellesley for you. I ought to have known how easily you slid out of your trousers. What spell was I under? Whatever it was has shattered. With kind regards, Hensley.And yet, she wonders, as she finishes this composition, is she really so changed? If he walked into this car right now and sat himself beside her, recited Shakespeare or Wordsworth or Tennyson, how many miles would pass before she would allow him to slide his hand beneath her skirts, while she smiled at his audacity and gripped the armrests a little bit tighter? What despicable loneliness this train has churned in her! Certainly his hands should never be trusted again. Knowing that his words are duplicitous, his body opportunistic, his heart—What heart? And why should she ascribe feelings to his heart? The heart is a muscle that moves blood through the body. That is all. First-year biology. Has she not more sophistication than that? She pouts at her own reflection in the train’s window. As much as she loathes the caricature she’s become, she cannot change it. What’s passed between them is over. And yet. What does she know, really, of the rhythms of courtship? Perhaps she has it all wrong. Perhaps what has happened, though shameful, is not entirely unique. If the heart is simply a muscle, then what is her desire?No matter that, she’s here, on this train. The miles between them growing with each turn of the wheel. Her new life waiting for her somewhere in the middle of nowhere.Dear Future, she writes in her head, imagining the strokes of her pen as though it is moving across sand, illuminated every so often by a large searchlight. When I see you, I may not want you, though you’ve been waiting there, pulsing so faithfully. Please help me to want you. Dress yourself up or offer warm soup or a long-lost friend.A surprising tear escapes, unannounced, as she imagines Lowe coming to find her. Remorseful and contrite, his arms holding her tight, rocking her along with the rhythm of the train.Despite her best efforts, she’s still just a girl whose heart has been broken.The ship docks in Bordeaux just after dawn and Charles admires the way the sun glints off the metal roofs along the dock. They board a train to Paris, all of them eager to see the first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower. There is a dinner cruise along the Seine and an outing to a club where an American jazz band plays horns that make them all glad to be alive. The next day, they are driven to May-en-Multien outside of Paris, where they will be housed for the next several weeks, given basic training in triage and driving. Their cots are established on the top floor of a picturesque farmhouse. Almost immediately, they are introduced to the fleet of Fords they will be driving. There is some fuss made over the new American volunteers by the staff. The matron who cooks for them greets them that first morning and each successive one by crooning, “Les Americains! Hooray. Les Americains!” Her happiness and gratitude cheer them mightily. The thick pork sausage and jam-filled pastries are as welcome a breakfast as Charles has ever had. He cannot help but feel buoyed by her enthusiasm. As she pours more coffee, he smiles at her and nods. It is just the welcome for which they’d hoped.Charles isn’t as boisterous as some of the others, but still, he wants to believe that America will turn the war. Just before he left New York at the end of May, Congress passed the Selective Service Act and there will be American soldiers boarding ships every day now. His own presence, his wits and efforts, he tells himself, will certainly make an important difference. Isn’t that what his privilege demands of him? Not more profits or more property, but a lasting impact upon the world. It seems to him that his parents regarded his education as simply a pastime until he accepted his ultimate occupation of overseeing the family fortune. In fact, when he announced that he was studying science at Harvard in order to prepare for medical school, his father laughed. “Study whatever you want, Charlie. It doesn’t matter one bit.”Charles’s grandfather had arrived on Ellis Island from Scotland just before the Civil War began and used his life savings to buy twelve sewing machines. Everyone thought he was crazy, but in a small room near the water in Brooklyn, those machines stuttered along day and night beneath the nimble, aching fingers of Scottish immigrants to produce the textiles required by the regiments of the North. Soon he had built an entire building in which he would oversee the largest textile operation the North had ever seen.Under Charles’s father’s stewardship, the company had grown and diversified into steel and oil. There were ships in the harbor that sailed only for him. As soon as Charles turned twenty-one, his father had been eager to train him in the art of being a baron. Medicine was a dirty, humble profession.When Charles first sits behind the wheel of the training ambulance and drives it across the empty field covered in early morning dew, he hears his father’s refrain in his ears. It doesn’t matter one bit. He looks in the rearview mirror at the tracks the truck is leaving behind it, two straight lines shaded and flat. The world bursts with all varieties of color on this summer day. Charles turns his gaze to the horizon, a perfect contrast between deep blue and green. As he picks up speed, the fellow sitting next to him straightens his back and puts a hand on the dash. “Easy, man,” he says. “It’s not an airplane.” But Charles can’t resist the urge to push the engine to its limits, to see his effect on this machine. The steering wheel beneath his fingers vibrates its own warning. He heeds nothing but the dark impetus in his gut for a palpable effect of his will, even if it means destruction. The groan of the engine thrills him and the heat coming from the floorboards makes his foot even more intent on its mission. He grips the wheel and narrows his eyes and the ambulance blows past the end of the training track.Beside him, Rogerson braces himself more severely between the dashboard and the passenger’s seat. “Whoa, Reid. Are you out of your mind? This is fucking idiocy.”Charles hears the panic in Rogerson’s voice, but he feels completely in control and ignores his plea. Their speed seems an antidote to the doubt that descended upon him in the darkened room last night. Charles wants to be fearless and this is the first time he’s felt so.Just short of the lake at the edge of the farm, Charles removes his foot from the gas and transfers it, with just as much conviction, to the brake. The truck hisses and whines and stops with a sudden, violent lurch. Smoke escapes from the hood, matching the steam coming off the water in front of them. Charles lets his grip loosen and his forehead fall against the wheel.“Okay,” he finally says to Rogerson and himself, as he raises his head. “Okay.”“Really?” Rogerson asks, his voice rising with anger. He reaches across the seat and grips Charles’s jaw in his hand. His fingers dig into the meaty corners, leaving Charles immobilized. He cannot even complain.“What the hell were you thinking? Are you a total lunatic? I didn’t come here to be killed in a lousy motorcar by some reckless rich kid.”Charles can’t answer. He tries to swallow the saliva gathering in the back of his throat. The tendons in his jaw throb with pain. He shakes his head. With no effect, he pulls at Rogerson’s arm with both of his hands. Rogerson gives him a deep, final squeeze and then lets go.Charles gasps, opening and shutting his jaw slowly, letting the saliva drip out of his open mouth and dampen his trousers.“Never again,” Rogerson says, quietly. “You got it? Never again.”Charles nods, but as the floorboards continue to heat the soles of his boots, he smiles. “I might’ve taken us for a swim.”“More likely a dive,” Rogerson says, his anger fading slightly.Charles laughs, his hands sore from the exertion. When he was a boy, his father’s overly firm grip used to leave his hand aching and lame. He can’t remember when he’d outgrown the pain, but when his father shook his hand last, on the evening before he left America, he felt nothing.“Shall I turn it around?” Charles asks, blowing into his palms.“You better. Whatever damage has been done is your take, not mine. You might owe the Crown a new truck.”Charles nods, replacing his foot on the gas and letting the wheels move slowly across the thick grass.“The King George has a lot more left in it than you think,” Charles says, christening their vehicle as it trudges back toward the main building, the kitchen chimney smoking cheerily and the royal blue shutters welcoming them back to the hued world.They’ve changed trains in Chicago. A new day begun on a new train. Hensley’s father has his nose buried in the morning’s newspapers, a pot of tea on the table between them. As the buoyant, golden fields of grain blur into a single, endless rectangle against the Midwestern sky, Hensley closes her eyes. Neither geography nor topography captures her imagination. Very little can prevent her from filling the endless hours with thoughts of the recent past.She remembers the day she met Lowe with searing precision. It was a Thursday. Tryouts were to be held at the school at five o’clock. The senior play was the culmination of every year, written and performed by the girls of the graduating class. At four thirty, her father came home from his job at the Times as he did every Thursday, drew the curtains, pulled the chessboard from its homemade felt envelope, and placed it on the mahogany dining table. From a separate felt bag that her mother had also sewn for him one Christmas before she died, he pulled the dull black and white pieces. He arranged them mindlessly on the board and asked Hensley if she would please fetch the sack of walnuts he’d bought for the occasion. She went to the kitchen and removed the sterling nutcracker that her parents had received as a wedding gift some twenty years before and noted how tarnished it was. Her mother would not approve. Sighing, she wrapped her hand around it and found the bag of walnuts in her father’s briefcase. Placing both on the dining room table, she kissed her father’s cheek as he set the black queen in her place, and bid him good luck.Smiling at her briefly, he took his voice to a faux-formal tone and said, “Thank you, daughter, but there is no such thing in chess.”Smiling, she said, “Then, think well, Father.”“And you? Will your activity require luck?”Hensley thought for a moment, wondering if any other girl was subjected to such a line of questioning. “It’s an audition, Daddy. Yes. I will need a good deal of luck. For it is not an objective endeavor, like your game. The casting of parts is a subjective decision made by the director, of whom I know absolutely nothing. So the soliloquy I’ve prepared may be one that he detests. It may be that his poor heart has been broken and he cannot stand Tennyson.”“Which one?”“‘If I were loved, as I desire to be.’”Her father nodded as he closed his eyes. “‘What is there in the great sphere of the earth / And range of evil between death and birth, / That I should fear,—if I were loved by thee?’”“Of course you know it.”“Why ‘of course’?”“Because you know everything, Daddy. You probably already know whether or not I’ll get the part.”He looked amused. “Yes, in fact, I do. With that poem, I’ve never known anyone to be rejected.”Hensley raised her eyebrows. “Really? Do tell,” she said as she pulled on her gloves.“It was one of your mother’s favorites. One of our favorites.”Hensley nodded. She’d known this, of course. It had been her mother who’d first recited it for her when she was just a girl. But she’d wondered if her father remembered. Now she knew.“So, wish me luck,” she said, putting on her hat.“I will only wish that the director recognizes the bounty of talent you possess.”“I should be back by seven. Marie and I will walk together.”He nodded, satisfied with this exchange. “But, please, do be quiet as you enter.”She knew his opponent, Mr. Wern, would arrive within the half hour, and after a limited conversation, the apartment would become a hushed sanctuary. The sewing machine, the guitar, the sound of her feet crossing the floor were all considered too loud. A chess player’s concentration was a sacred thing, perhaps the only sacred thing in the world.And who was she to deny him this respite from his daily work, which increasingly produced a furrowed brow, fraught words, and tense coughs? Her father didn’t trust Wilson, or the rhetoric that had become his foreign policy. He was worried that it was only a matter of time before the United States joined the butchery overseas.She had not always been so understanding of his habits. When she was eleven and twelve and thirteen, Hensley had spent most of the time sullen and angry at his archaic inclinations. She would slam doors to accentuate her silent voice. Stomp her feet when he addressed her as “daughter.” She missed her mother and wanted an embrace. A smile. Warmth without humor. Her brother, away at boarding school, had been no help at all. If anything, on his visits home, he highlighted her isolation by going out every night with his own friends.On her fourteenth birthday, her father had looked at her earnestly. “Is it a happy birthday?” he’d asked.She did not reply. She wanted to scream at him. To ask him why he couldn’t just wish her a happy birthday the way he was supposed to. She wanted to tell him she’d never had a happy birthday, not since Mother died, and that he was a poor, poor substitute. Instead, she was silent. He walked across the living room to the front closet and pulled a large, clumsily wrapped package from it. “See if this makes it a happy birthday.” He carried the parcel across the room and placed it on the low table in front of the sofa.Hensley crossed the room, her heeled shoes making loud punctuation marks. “What is it?” she asked, standing beside him.“Why, I do believe it is a gift.” He smiled and sat on the sofa.“What type?” she replied, unwilling to be placated so easily.“Are there types? Tell me the categories and I will attempt to classify it.”Hensley stomped her foot. But she caught her reflection in the antique glass beside the fireplace and suddenly, on the occasion of her fourteenth birthday, her juvenile foot stomping looked either ill-mannered or comical. She turned directly to comedy.“One: useful but boring. Two: entertaining but useless. Three: perfect.”Her father’s face betrayed no acknowledgment of her sudden transformation. “Perhaps the receiver of the gift must apply the category. For it depends, completely, on her. That is the risk of gift giving.”“True.” Hensley sat gingerly on the sofa beside her father. His beard and his eyebrows had gone white and she couldn’t say when this had happened.He placed a hand lightly on her back. “Go on,” he said. “Let’s see how I’ve fared.”The paper was brown and thick and there was a single purple ribbon coiled into a circle and placed on top. She removed this, smoothing it into her lap. When she pulled off the paper, there was a gorgeous black sewing machine. With a formidable hand crank and gleaming metal components. Hensley touched the crank with her fingers. It felt cool and heavy.“Daddy,” she said. “It’s perfect.”“Aha. Type number three. I couldn’t be happier.”“Where did you find it?”“A little storefront on Broadway. Your mother used to tell me of walking by and admiring their machines.” He took off his glasses and cleaned the lenses with his handkerchief.The room grew quiet. Noise from the street below filled their silence. Shouts from a newsie selling the evening paper, vendors’ wheels cutting loudly into the cobblestones, engines and horns navigating traffic.“So, a happy birthday, Hennie?” her father asked, standing and replacing his glasses on his nose.“It is. Thank you.”“You’re quite welcome. Now, let the sewing begin,” he said and she smiled at him.“On an empty stomach?” Hensley asked and her father bowed his head.“Such cruelty you endure. Shame. Shall we go out for dinner, the first of your fifteenth year?”Hensley stomped her foot again. She liked the way it felt now, like a grown woman imitating her long-gone childhood self. “To Polly’s.”He stomped his own foot, mimicking her. “At once.”Since then, Hensley had used the Willcox & Gibbs every day, at once losing and finding herself in the cutting, measuring, pinning, pulling, constructing of clothes. And how remarkably different their relationship had become, each of them enjoying the other’s idiosyncrasies with less judgment.The night she remembers now, as the train rocks her head back and forth, she wore clothes of her own design, sewn on the Willcox & Gibbs: a black skirt cut close at her hips and flaring in thick pleats around her calves and a linen dress shirt of her father’s refashioned into a pin-tucked blouse that hung in a jaunty, uneven hem around her waist. She wrapped herself into one of her mother’s wool coats adorned with a tuft of fur she’d removed from a sweater she’d outgrown. She found her umbrella and left her father to his game. He said the same thing he said each time she left the apartment: “Be good, Hennie.”For a man who spent his days searching for specificity, it was a perfectly obtuse instruction. She hardly even heard it anymore. Though she never intended to be anything but.• • •Standing on the stage, one by one, each girl recited her monologue while the others waited in the cold passageway outside. Under the bright lights, it was nearly impossible to make out the face of the director, but the gossip in the hall was that he was young and handsome. A relative of one of the school’s trustees with London stage experience.When Hensley finished her soliloquy, he said merely, “Well done. I suppose Tennyson is a favorite of every starry-eyed seventeen-year-old girl.”Hensley blushed brightly. “Oh. I’m sorry. Has there been an awful lot of it today?”The theater was quiet. For a moment she thought he hadn’t heard her. Then, with his deep, articulated voice, he said, “Only yours.”• • •The final cast list contained no surprises. Hensley shrugged as she read over the names. Her own disappointment at not seeing her own was lessened almost immediately by the image of Lily Benton dressed as a man, her golden curls slicked back and tucked beneath a top hat. It was a girls’ school, after all, and since the play had been penned by one of their own, it was, inevitably, a romance, and the semblance of men would be required.Despite her fair complexion and slim figure, Hensley would be relegated to being a stagehand, producing the program, or acting as an usher. Her friend Marie, who was soft-spoken and hadn’t even wanted to audition for a speaking role, was cast as the disapproving grandmother. She was mortified. “Please come with me. I’ve got to get out of it. Maybe he’ll let us switch places. You’re a much better choice anyway.”Hensley acquiesced. And it was then that she was first able to properly assess Lowell Teagan.He entered the theater wearing a black hat and a beautiful black overcoat, cut slim and flattering for his tall frame. He walked past Hensley and she looked down at her feet, ashamed of the way she wanted to reach out and touch his coat just to feel it. She raised her eyes after he passed, studying his back.Suddenly he stopped and turned and looked directly at her as though he could read her mind. “Hensley?” he asked and walked back toward her. He lifted his hat off his head. “I hardly recognized you without that dreamy look in your eye.”Hensley felt herself capable of nothing but blushing hotly when he spoke to her. His face was pale and accentuated with straight black eyebrows and a thick crop of black hair. His amber eyes darted energetically about as he spoke, and then they settled, unnervingly, upon her as he spoke the last word of his sentence.“And Marie, is it? Our dear Granny. What can I do for you girls?”With a slight nudge from Hensley, Marie asked, politely, if he might assign the Old Granny to Hensley. As she spoke, Hensley watched Lowell’s eyes move quickly around the theater and then, when Marie was silent, he looked again at Hensley.“You want to be the Old Granny?”Hensley mumbled. “I’m amenable to anything.”“Yes, well, though that is a nice quality for a lapdog, it will not do for an actress. Marie remains our Granny. But you, Hensley, have a talent you did not share at the audition.”Hensley, with newly permanent crimson cheeks, did not reply.“You sew, I’m told. You will be our costume designer. I will need to consult with you before tomorrow’s rehearsal. Come here directly after class. Thank you, ladies,” he said and fixed his eyes toward the stage, upon which he leaped moments later, throwing his hat into the empty front row.• • •She decided she hated him. Anybody who could make her so perpetually flush irked her. Even as she sewed a new velvet band for her hair that night, she fumed at his condescending attitude. She intended to walk into the theater at the appointed time the next afternoon and stonewall him and his larger-than-life ego.And she had, in fact, stood in the aisle with her hands straight at her sides, her mother’s owl brooch pinned to her coat, and told him that if he wanted her talent, she would require total creative control. He must give her final say on all designs. She would not answer to any of the cast, nor to him.He was sitting with his feet propped up against the row of seats in front of him. He held her gaze and she promised herself, no matter how rude his reply, she would not blush.He let the noise from the hallway, the afterschool banter, fill the space between them. When he finally spoke, he said only, “Splendid.”Hensley had been prepared to argue, or to turn and walk away without allowing him to have the final word. Instead, she smiled.“Really?” she said.His eyes traveled from her face, across her torso, and ever so subtly to the skirt that hung tightly around her hips and fell into a puddle of pleats at the floor. “I’d be a fool to decline,” he said finally and, despite her best efforts, she blushed. “You are obviously the most fashionable girl here, or in half of Manhattan, for that matter. Did you make these clothes you’re wearing?” he asked, motioning to the full expanse of her body with his long-fingered hand.Hensley nodded. She felt slightly hollow, as though with that motion of his hand he had rearranged her most essential internal parts, making space, creating turmoil. “Made or adapted,” she said quietly, unable to conjure the typical force of her voice. “Sometimes I use my father’s shirts or some of my mother’s things that are still in the closets.”He seemed to be studying the seams of her blouse and she was afraid he would notice a place where they were not quite perfect. “We will need all the pieces for final alterations at least a week before the first dress rehearsal. This is no small task,” he said, returning his gaze to her eyes.Hensley nodded. “Thank you,” she said. As she turned to walk away, her body strangely weightless, he spoke again.“You could have played Old Granny, or any other part in this play, for that matter.” He put his feet on the floor and stood, walked directly toward her, and then turned sharply toward the stage, his hand just grazing her shoulder as he passed. “That’s the problem,” he continued, addressing the stage, his voice nearly swallowed by its great expanse. Hensley moved closer, to be sure to hear him. But, without warning, he turned back and was suddenly just inches away from her. “I find it’s never good politics, especially in a school like this, to let the obvious star outshine the rest of the players. At its best, theater is an ensemble. That is the lesson I’m charged with teaching. I hope there are no hurt feelings?” His green eyes, which so often looked gold, were studying her own.Hensley shook her head. “No. Not at all,” she said and implored her feet to carry her out the door.Candles adorn each long table, feigning a kind of elegance in the small mess hall. As it melts, the wax smells of the onions they are stored with in the kitchen. After dinner, Charles smokes and studies the chessboard in his mind, occasionally drawing it on his napkin when he must. At first, he longed for an actual board, one of many everyday items he now cherished in its absence. Like an extra pair of socks, soft bread, books, cold beer, chocolate. But now, he is grateful for the utter concentration required to conjure the entire board in his mind. The day’s noise and smoke and brutality are forced into a less prominent place, where they continue to rattle and hum, but do not take over him completely—a respite.They had been so eager to be assigned to their posts, to be in the thick of it. He grimaces when he thinks of that anticipation of just a month ago. Had they known how life would become a dark, narrow hole in which they would sleep less than they ever thought possible, hardly ever see a horizon without smoke or fire corroding its edges, eat turnips and potatoes that have been boiled into a bitter white mash at nearly every meal, they might have enjoyed even more those empty days that began with overly salted sausage and sweet jam, were filled with long walks across tangled, abandoned vines and beneath thick groves of apple trees, and ended with cognac, a piece of Toblerone, and the BBC on the wireless.When Charles wrote to his parents, he told them that he and Rogerson, his closest friend there, would both be assigned to Casualty Clearing Station #13 on the western front. Their location probably matters more to his parents than it does to Charles. As far as he can tell, the soldiers who climb over the edge of the trenches at the front, those who he and Rogerson intercept from relay posts and advanced dressing stations and carry into their own resuss or preop tents, don’t care what day it is or what country they’re in.

Bookclub Guide

INTRODUCTIONAs the Great War rages, an independent young woman struggles to sustain love—and life—through the power of words.It’s 1917 and America is on the brink of World War I. After Hensley Dench’s father is forced to resign from the New York Times for his anti-war writings, she finds herself expelled from the life she loves and the future she thought she would have. Instead, Hensley is transplanted to New Mexico, where her father has taken a job overseeing a gold mine. Driven by loneliness, Hensley hijacks her father’s correspondence with Charles Reid, a young American medic with whom her father plays chess via post. Hensley secretly begins her own exchange with Charles, but looming tragedy threatens them both, and—when everything turns against them—will their words be enough to beat the odds?ABOUT HAZEL WOODSHazel Woods lives in New Mexico with her husband and two children.A CONVERSATION WITH HAZEL WOODS1. What was the inspiration for this novel? What type of research went into writing it?Actually, the very first bit of inspiration for this novel came from the knowledge that my great-grandfather had played chess via the post, sometimes with partners as far away as Europe. I’m not sure why, but this really sparked a kind of curiosity and longing for the time in our not-so-distant past in which entertainment and communication involved vast amounts of effort and patience. From that spark, came the voices of Hensley and Charles and their desperate plight.I read my great-grandparents’ courtship letters to get a feel for language and atmosphere. What a treasure trove! I also looked at a lot of photographs from the time period and read about the earliest American troops to serve, most of them through the American Field Service.2. This Is How I’d Love You oscillates seamlessly between the bloody European warfront and the dry, dusty lands of New Mexico. Did you have particular locales in mind when creating these environments for the reader? Was it difficult to channel these environments through a historical lens?The town of Hillsboro, New Mexico is the actual place where my great-grandparents settled. That locale was pretty easy to render—I’ve seen lots of photographs from when it was a bustling mining town in the early 1900s. When I was younger, I was lucky enough to drive a bit through France and Germany and that countryside made a lasting impression on my imagination. As I was doing research about the front lines, I imagined all of those beautiful vistas and fields overrun by the machinery and brutality of war.3. In this age of Facebook, Twitter, and social media, do you think that letter writing is a lost art? What value do you place on handwritten correspondence?I am absolutely one of those sentimental types who values handwritten correspondence much more than any kind of electronic communication. My husband and I wrote letters for the entire first year of our relationship and I cherish them. I just recently found a couple of letters my father wrote to me when I was away at summer camp the year I was thirteen. It was the 4th of July, and he alternated every letter of the salutation between a red and blue pen. That detail is so charming and sweet. It reveals something that an emoticon never can. Having lost him nearly ten years ago, that piece of paper is a direct, priceless connection to him. I hope I can leave behind similarly unique written artifacts for my children.4. What other historical periods interest you as a writer? I think with the right character, I could immerse myself in any time period. It’s human beings that fascinate me most. So, I probably won’t be setting a book in the Cretaceous period, but otherwise, I am interested in all settings.DISCUSSION QUESTIONSWhy do you think Hensley chose to begin her correspondence with Charles? Was it the result of boredom? Curiosity?When Hensley and Sacha first arrive to New Mexico, Hensley describes it as an “irrelevant place” compared to her hometown of New York. Over the course of the novel, do her feelings towards Hillsboro change? What experiences or interactions help her to broaden her understanding of the area?On page 4, Charles comments that Sacha Dench was “hardly the kind of dutiful patriot that he had expected to volunteer for such an assignment.” Given his political opinions, why do you think he chose to engage in correspondence with Charles? Would you define him as a patriot?Discuss Charles’ upbringing and his relationship with his parents. How does their ambivalence about his career choice affect him? After he returns home from war, does his relationship with his parents change?Though Hensley’s mother has been deceased for years before the events of This Is How I’d Love You, her presence is a guiding force throughout. Given the information that is revealed about her mother through memories and flashbacks, how would you describe her? At what points of the novel does Hensley feel closest to her mother? After Hensley discovers that she is pregnant, how does her connection with mother become more profound?How does letter writing function as a form of escape for both Charles and Hensley? Compare the letters that they write to each other versus letters that they write to other characters in the novel. What strikes you the most about their correspondence? What letters in the novel, if any, resonated most strongly with you?Discuss Hensley’s relationship with Teresa. How is emboldened by her friend’s independence? How do they both help each other to heal from their emotional wounds?On page 249, Lowell Teagan remarks that Hensley’s gender “makes her helpless.” How does Hensley act in defiance of that statement? In what ways does she challenge the expected role of womanhood after her father’s death?There are several scenes throughout This Is How I’d Love You that describe the gruesome realities of war. What scenes or details impacted you the most? Were you given a new perspective on the war from your reading experience?Describe Hensley’s relationship with her brother. How do their personalities differ? How does Hensley’s decision to forego marriage to Lowell affect their relationship?How do societal expectations factor into Charles’ decision-making both before the war and after? How does Hensley defy the expected conventions for both her social class and her gender throughout the novel?How do mystical and magical elements factor into the plot of This Is How I’d Love You? What role does the circus play in helping Hensley to realize her independence?Secrecy plays a role throughout This Is How I’d Love You, with several characters hiding or manipulating the truth in order to protect themselves and their relationships with others. How did this affect Hensley and Charles’ relationship? What was the most surprising element of the novel for you?Discuss the first meeting between Hensley and Charles. Were you surprised by Hensley’s initial reaction to Charles’ words of commitment? What did you find to be the most romantic part of This Is How I’d Love You?