Proving that a timely theme hardly guarantees a fascinating read, here’s an earnest clunker about school violence.
Timorous, gray-haired Elda Graff, sidelined by life, ushers at the community theater and subs for the Barberton School District. While Jordan makes her sympathetic, she’s rarely interesting—nor are, to any real degree, the novel’s other characters. Looking up from her program for the Little Players’ production of Heidi, Elda sees someone whom she finds almost threateningly exotic—Joanne Davies, Birkenstock-shod and garbed in silk. Turns out that Joanne, pregnant by her boyfriend, Eros, needs a maternity-leave fill-in for her high-school English classes. It’s been 30 years since Elda did any but part-time teaching, and, once returned to the classroom, she’s startled at Joanne’s adventurousness. While the departed hippie’s radical lesson plans add up to little more than mildly free-form creative-writing exercises, they do provide student Tucker Harding a chance to vent. He’s the school’s obligatory misfit, given to explosive fisticuffs. And his prose efforts for Elda do seem a bit too William Burroughs for comfort: “Kitchen sink and back of hand cries for last pillow…” While Elda works hard to save Tucker—misunderstood, of course, rather than malevolent—she’s made to deal with demons that forced her premature retirement three decades earlier, demons from the past inspired by Sarah Pogford, a student who was murdered by none other than, still whisper the townsfolk, Mack, Elda’s schoolbus-driver husband. Defiantly insisting on Mack’s innocence, Elda sees Tucker as a child she can save, Sarah’s psychic descendant. Not a bad plot, but sabotaged by colorless, flat writing.
A debut novel that would’ve worked better as a Lifetime Network screenplay.