After a disastrous semester, Ruby Rousseau returns home to tend her wounds. A broken heart, a suicide attempt, a failed thesis—all have left her devastated, unable even to read her favorite books. But the delivery of a mysterious suitcase forces her to face her demons.
The suitcase belongs to Beth Richards, an acquaintance, not even a friend, from Tarble College, and she’s gone missing. Inside the suitcase, Ruby finds not only a postcard invitation to Tarble’s Reunion Weekend, but also a copy of A Room of One’s Own, a book that sings to her with the siren call of her abandoned thesis. Under the guidance of the handsome, charismatic and married professor Mark Suter, Ruby had spent her final semester immersed in the literature of women whose creativity and intelligence had driven them to desperate, suicidal acts. Now working as a journalist—well, really just writing obituaries—Ruby is perhaps fulfilling the echoes in her college’s namesake of muckraking journalist Ida Tarbell. Unable to resist, she opens the book and discovers a comment in the margin that she cannot ignore. Encouraged by her editor, Ruby begins investigating Beth’s disappearance, a search that quickly splashes over its margins into her own life. Was her thesis really a failure? What were Suter’s true intentions? The answers can only be found by traveling back to Tarble, where another young woman has attempted suicide on the eve of the reunion. Ghostly sightings of Virginia Woolf, Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Sylvia Plath throw Ruby’s sanity into question as they emphasize a thread stitching each of these women’s lives to each other’s: All are madwomen in the attic.
Despite some implausible coincidences, Hansen’s debut cleverly entwines these literary ghosts into a suspenseful and swiftly paced light mystery.