Debut novelist Cohen’s heroine, Mara Berg, is a self-sufficient math teacher with a pattern of meeting men unwilling to commit.
When the end of an unsatisfying stop-and-start relationship of seven years coincides with a new teaching assignment at Franklin High School, Mara takes it as a chance for a fresh start. While Franklin presents exciting teaching challenges and new friendships, it also comes with an unfortunate relationship prospect in Jack Holden, a well-liked history teacher. Jack is older, charismatic, and married, and of course Mara falls for him. They begin an affair that fulfills Mara’s need for physical passion just as strongly as it threatens her peace of mind. The math teacher always considered herself an independent woman—she happily pays her own way and has little desire for a traditional marriage or family—so, in some ways, a noncommittal fling suits her just fine. At the same time, she can’t shake her need for more than the intermittent rendezvous that Jack schedules at his convenience. Though unsettled by the way she is beholden to Jack, Mara can’t bring herself to end the affair, which drags on for 30 years. Mara is a warm protagonist who easily invokes the reader’s sympathy, but her indecision when it comes to Jack ultimately rankles. Over the course of the narrative, Mara moves house, changes jobs, and faces the death of both of her parents, but her dominant concern remains her lover, whose inconstant presence provides just enough heat to keep her hungry for more. While Mara decides many times to break things off, the plot remains at an uncomfortable stalemate as she’s drawn back into the affair over and over. Mara’s eventual moment of new self-awareness is welcome and brings fresh energy to the story, but it is not a strong enough gesture to balance her ambivalence throughout the rest of the plot. The text could also have used a little more polish, as numerous grammatical and spelling errors make for a distracting reading experience.
An unsatisfying narrative of a woman whose final transformation is too little, too late.