Newly discovered, the evocative fable of a young teacher’s brush with professional disaster during a simpler-seeming era.
Carleton, who died in 1999 and is known for a single, bestselling book, The Moonflower Vine (1962), also, it turns out, wrote another, set in 1941 and capturing a mood of youthful passion increasingly overshadowed by war. Allen Liles, 25 and fresh out of university, takes up a job teaching English at a small-town college in Missouri, a hiatus, she hopes, before moving to New York to become a writer. Two of her brightest students, George and Toby, fall into the habit of visiting her out of hours in her apartment, where the trio loses itself in poetry, music, ideas and heady enjoyment of the night. This chaste rhapsody of exuberant idealism leads to an even closer relationship between Allen and Toby, which breaks up before it is consummated. Nevertheless, the indiscretion has been noted, and Allen quickly realizes her foolishness, vulnerability and shame. With the support of the dean, she survives this near-catastrophe and tries to conform, yet the lure of the alternative is still with her.
Fine and dry, with a faint flavor of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Carleton’s vignette of innocence and experience has a bright wit and perceptive charm, rendered all the more enjoyable by its retro feel.