Incest, racial tension, statutory rape, alcoholism—LeCraw (The Swimming Pool, 2010) throws them all into the stew in this melodrama about family secrets and thwarted love among teachers at an elite New England prep school.
Fresh out of Harvard, Charlie Garrett becomes an English teacher at the Abbott School in Abbottsford, Massachusetts (not to be confused with the actual Abbott Academy which merged with Andover in the 1970s). But Charlie isn't a typical blue blood. He knows little about his father, who he's been told died in Vietnam. His mother, Anita, moved from rural Georgia to Atlanta, where she worked as a nurse, when Charlie was a baby. When she married Hugh Satterthwaite, scion of one of Atlanta’s most established families, Charlie became part of Atlanta’s most exclusive community, though he never felt like he really fit in. Hugh, a devoted stepfather even after the birth of Charlie’s much younger and more charismatic half brother, Nicky, got Charlie into Harvard before drinking himself to death, and Anita pushed Charlie to take the job at Abbott for reasons of her own. Charlie is drawn to chaplain Preston Bankhead, a fellow Southerner, and falls in love with Preston’s daughter, May, nine years his junior. He doesn’t act on his feelings while she’s an Abbott student, but they correspond when she goes to college and begin an ardent affair when she comes home to take care of her father while he's dying of melanoma. But Charlie dumps May after Preston’s funeral for reasons he won't share with her, and May leaves town. Charlie settles in to life as a bachelor teacher. Years later, Nicky, a Harvard grad who’s been traumatized while doing relief work in Afghanistan, takes a job teaching at Abbott, to Charlie’s delight. Then May returns to teach at Abbott as well.
The last 50 pages become a rush of plot contrivances that undermine what until then has been a complicated, engrossing study of characters and relationships.