The waters are roiled in a small New England college when a part-time professor takes up with her teaching assistant—in Brookhouse’s (Dear Otto, 1995, etc.) gentle but overly precious fifth.
Caroline Moore is recovering from a mastectomy, not really sure how life will go with her prosthetic breast, and being cajoled by the chair of her English department to take up a couple of courses. The clincher is the offer of an assistant to help with grading, and when Gabe arrives for an interview, catching Caroline half-naked in her pool, there’s already a hint that he could do a whole lot more than correct her students’ grammar. After a bit of initial uncertainty (she’s 20 years older, only separated from her husband, worried about Gabe’s take on her surgery, etc.), she jumps into an affair with him without looking back. And as she jumps, she’s drawn into his world—his poet-father’s recent suicide, his ex-lovers (and fellow students) who resent Caroline’s presence—but finds herself physically fulfilled for the first time in her life. A test of the relationship is a Thanksgiving dinner with Gabe and her daughter Ellen, who’s visiting from California and wants to resume her former intimacy with her father: she is rebuffed. But then Caroline is drawn into a power struggle at work. It has partly to do with a new, rough-edged black professor in the department and partly with the person who set Caroline up with Gabe (and why). She’s forced to make hard choices—which don’t please everyone, but are ones that she can live with.
A sympathetic view of a woman at a crossroads, to be sure, but also a story with more polished surfaces than actual depth.