Fathers, daughters and poetry are ruefully, wittily combined in an introspective literary debut.
The soul-searching of a willful daddy’s girl who has just lost her father forms the core of Pouncey’s accomplished novel, which weaves bookish themes into a getting-of-wisdom tale set in the fictional New England college town of Darwin. Only-child Flora Dempsey returns to Darwin, the place where her parents’ marriage dissolved, after inheriting the house, dog, money and, as literary executor, unpublished poems of her father Lewis, distinguished ex-president of Darwin College. The poems, written in praise of his new love, fellow-academic Cynthia, land Flora with dilemmas both personal and critical as she considers their publication. While reviewing her troubled childhood, loyalty to both parents, best friendship with a girl she harmed and attitudes to academe and literature, Flora also starts a relationship with Paul, Lewis’s lawyer. Pouncey’s beady perceptions, voiced through Flora’s none-too-sweet nature, render the narrative dryly comic as well as psychologically and philosophically astute. Whether or not to publish is both a storm in a teacup and a signifier of Flora’s maturity as she tries to balance her own perversity with the motives, allegiances and characters of those around her, including her dead father, on whose behalf she will eventually make good decisions.
Tender, smart and often wicked, especially on the subject of college towns, Pouncey’s first is impressively mature and entertaining.