ON COMMON GROUND by Deena Linett


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Augusta Foley, a white 37-year-old English professor from Georgia who has come to teach at a Pennsylvania college, receives tenure there quickly enough. Far more complicatingly, she also falls deeply in love with the department's only black teacher, Ben Washington, 53. Ben, left by his wife when his children (now grown) were only babies, has made a life out of extreme responsibility, caring, carefulness--but now Augusta threatens its foundations. And so Ben's fear--which he himself doesn't analyze correctly at first--isn't one involving race but rather the fear of being left alone once more, of emotional abandonment. Meanwhile, Augusta, on a weekend trip back to her dying father on his Macon farm, ponders the ramifications--mythic/ sexual/social--of a black-white love. Then, on her return to the college, she and Ben commence a dance of doubt and pain. But in time--after much hurt--they can at last discuss it; and these later scenes are especially strong, the feelings rawly provisional. First-novelist Linett, in choosing not to use quotation marks around speech, makes her book seem unnecessarily drab, wearing, interior--and yet the veracity of both Ben's and Augusta's problems always breaks through into light: these people aren't stereotypes, yet they know, guard let down, they could become them. For all the conventional academic trappings of the setting, then: an honest novel about a situation resisting solution--and a solid, unflashy debut.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1983
Publisher: State Univ. of New York Press