An oddly passive middle-aged academic switches colleges and comes alive to friends, feelings and a future, in this debut novel from Meier, wife of author Frank Delaney.
Partnerless and all but friendless, 48-year-old Dr. Joy Harkness seems to have sleep-walked through much of her life, including a four-year marriage and another 12 teaching literature at Columbia University. But all that’s about to change after she accepts a prestigious new post at Amherst College in Massachusetts. Meier’s debut breezily mixes the influence of French aestheticism on Henry James with lighter humor and romance as she drops her not-quite-credible heroine into an irresistibly sociable new community in which Joy discovers a perfect if run-down house, falls foul of several campus Lotharios (known as the Coyotes), gets sucked into a spousal-abuse drama and finds herself acting as temporary den mother to four active little girls. Slowly she realizes she is enjoying what she had previously avoided: “the mess of including other people in my life,” even stumbling on an unlikely partner in Teddy Hennessy, a gifted, self-taught house-fixer-upper burdened with a cartoonishly possessive mother. Leisurely in pace, intelligent and amiable in tone, the novel glides over its implausibilities, including Joy’s paradoxes—simultaneously attractive and insightful while also isolated and unaware. Dodging predictability in the final quarter, Meier takes leave of her heroine in a happy place.
An up-market, engaging, feel-good fantasy.