REVIEW: The Same Last Name by Kathleen Gilles Seidel
Dear Ms. Seidel,
Your 1983 category, The Same Last Name, begins when three cars arrive at New York State’s Frank Lake State Park. One of the park’s forest rangers, twenty-five year old April Ramsey, greets the man who registers this group of six visitors. April directs the tourist to the best campsites for a group that size, and he gives her a list of the six visitors’ names and the telephone number of the law firm where all six work.
After the man leaves, April passes the list to a co-worker, Faith, and Faith calls April’s attention to the fact that one of the other lawyers shares April’s last name. April freezes in her tracks, because she and Christopher D. Ramsey III have more than their last name in common. The two used to be married.
At age eighteen, April was a bubbly, popular cheerleader from a small Virginia town. But she had never held a job, cooked, cleaned, or kept abreast of the news. April’s mother wanted her daughter to be popular and happy, and she did not prepare her daughter to cope with hardship.
When April began dating twenty-two year old Christopher Ramsey, the town’s most eligible young bachelor, her mother abruptly stopped supervising her. An infatuated April slept with Christopher one night when her mother was out of town and became pregnant, as her mother had hoped, and Christopher did the honorable thing and married her.
But although April was in love with Christopher, Christopher did not return her feelings. He was polite and reserved, gentlemanly, but outside of the marriage bed there was no real closeness between them. April had a difficult delivery and her baby girl was stillborn. While recovering, she overheard Christopher’s father speaking to a friend about the possibility of having Christopher’s marriage to April annulled.
Since she did not want to keep Christopher tied to her when he didn’t love her, April took off without telling him where she was going, leaving a note which said that she could be contacted through her minister. She took a bus to Buffalo, got a waitressing job and enrolled in a community college. She majored in forestry, and later became a ranger.
During the years she was in school, letters from Christopher arrived, but April returned them unopened and refused to take his money. She did sign the divorce papers he eventually sent. April learned to support herself and acquired the self-sufficiency she had not had when she married Christopher.
Seven years after their first meeting, Christopher has arrived at the park with his coworkers for a two-week stay, and April realizes she will run into him sooner or later, so she goes to his campsite to say hello. Christopher is shocked to see April, and at first he views her as the same young girl he once married.
April eventually realizes that Christopher is carrying a lot of guilt for the way he caused her life to change course. As they gradually begin to get to know each other again, it becomes clear that Christopher has worried for April all these years, and he still worries for her. He wants to help her find a better situation. But for April, it is important that Christopher recognize that she has matured and changed, and that she is capable of taking care of herself.
The Same Last Name is a story of how two people learn to make peace with their past, let go of old mistakes, and rediscover each other as mature adults.
At first I wasn’t sure if I was going to like Christopher, mainly because he got April pregnant when she was only eighteen and unsure of herself. But as the story progressed, and it became clear that he was tortured with guilt over what April had suffered, I did start liking him. He was a responsible man who would not allow himself to be happy, and had even left Virginia because of what had happened there. I came to want him to find a way to let the sadness of the past go.
Christopher’s lawyer friends were an interesting bunch. My favorite was probably Josh, an empathetic man with a card or two up his sleeve. My least favorite was Julia, who played the role of the scheming “other woman,” and tried to maneuver things so that she would appear in a good light and April in a less flattering one. I liked that toward the end of the book we saw another side to Julia, but I wish that her complexity had been hinted at sooner.
But the star of the book was April. One of the things I love about your heroines is that they are so capable and self-reliant. April was younger and more vulnerable than some of them, but I loved the way it was important to her to prove her competence. She had worked hard to become her own person, and I admired the way that, despite her feelings for Christopher, she held on to her sense of self.
My biggest complaint about The Same Last Name is that it is written largely from April’s viewpoint. Although April has a lot of insights into Christopher’s feelings, I would have liked to know when and how he fell in love with April, and that did not come across to me.
But despite this, and although it is not as complex as some of your single titles or your category Mirrors and Mistakes, The Same Last Name is a wholly absorbing book. Considering that it is twenty-six years old, the book holds up remarkably well. The main characters are sympathetic and multidimensional, the natural park setting comes alive, and nearly everything feels real. I almost always close your books feeling that I have consumed something nourishing and satisfying, and that was very much the case with this one. B.
This book can be purchased at Amazon used as it is out of print. No ebook format.