This hopeless dead-zone of fictional interest spends 350 pages on the astonishing tale of a student falling in love, sleeping with, and then killing himself over, his art teacher.
But there you have it. Susan is a blond, vivacious 28-year-old Dallas art teacher, popular with all the kids and naively alluring to boot. Jeff is the shy new charge who stumbles into her classroom looking like the Calvin Klein underwear guy. He is sexually inexperienced, new to the school, and ill-at-ease socially. His rich dad lives on the hill and rarely visits; his psychotic, Bible-thumping mom coddles her boy to the point of suffocation. For her part, Susan, lashed to an unsatisfying eight-year relationship with Curt, an architect, blanches at Jeff’s emotional remoteness and his obsession with work. Perhaps as relief, perhaps as a more exciting alternative, she is also trying to finish a thesis about the angel Gabriel's temptation of the Madonna, and spends some time—in her author's most cynical move—talking about the aesthetic, non-carnal pleasures of the flesh. Meanwhile, student and teacher flirt, they do life studies, they kiss, they feel guilt and longing, they make love. And that's about it, except that one of Jeff's dastardly friends has videotaped the encounter, leading the young Adonis to kill himself in anguish. Jeff's mom is good and angry, and Susan goes into therapy.
In a work lacking the mildest frisson, full of routine transgressions by cutout characters who extract nothing more than obligatory emotions from their uninteresting situations in life, Smith (Understanding Women, 1998, etc.) has stretched the definition of "unimaginative" to bracing new lengths.