Electra meets Lord Byron. Daphne meets Apollo. Insecure girl with eating disorder meets predatory teacher with dashed ambitions.
Woollett’s debut novel casts Laurel Marks as the brilliant yet underachieving, beautiful yet repressed protagonist. Her disturbed eyes view her voluptuous, free-spirited mother with horror and her frail, intellectually gifted father with reluctant reverence. Suffering from trigeminal neuralgia, her father’s passivity draws Laurel closer while his ardent love for her mother repels her. His early death leaves her feelings for him unresolved and eager to be rid of her mother. Consequently, she jumps at the chance to attend St. Cecelia’s Catholic School as a boarder, although she pockets a vial of her father’s opiates. Suicide insurance. Enter Hugh Steadman, Byronic, charismatic teacher of Romantic poetry. Married to a successful doctor and father to teenage twins, Steadman’s academic ambitions have dwindled from attending medical school to enticing barely mature young women. Soon, Steadman’s virility and Laurel’s desire for a new god figure have her manipulating her body language, changing her locker and wearing black bras under white blouses to attract his all-too-willing attention. Quite the schoolgirl, Laurel rejoices in every morsel of information gained: his first name, his birth date, his wardrobe. An unexpected visit from his wife to the classroom provokes Laurel’s interest and possessiveness. Laurel’s unrelenting focus on Steadman makes for an uncomfortable reading experience. She simultaneously desires and despises her sexuality; she both adores and deplores Steadman. Forced to see the train wreck through Laurel’s eyes, the reader cannot ignore her role in the affair. Nor can the reader ignore Laurel’s heartbreaking naïveté. Their flirtation ignites into a doomed affair, which both try to exalt onto a mythic scale. Sadly, their relationship is merely sordid.
An anxious, uneasy and despondent anti-romance novel.