In this debut novel, the arrival of a spunky new manager at the local bookstore heralds a sea change in the college and community it serves.
Tom Putnam’s life has been virtually unchanged since he completed graduate school. He teaches English at a picturesque small-town college in Virginia. He lives in faculty housing with his wife, Marjory, a meek, troubled woman, and her mother, Agnes, who helps with Marjory’s care. Tom is not necessarily happy, but he is dutiful, and he and Agnes make a good team. He enjoys his work and has a sort-of friend on the faculty, stuffed-shirt Russell Jacobs, and a sort-of nemesis, brash Iris Benson, but both are largely background to his daily, plodding existence. Late one summer, Rose Callahan appears on campus to invigorate programming at the bookstore. Simultaneously, immense changes descend on Tom’s life: Marjory dies in an automobile accident, and a mysterious boy arrives on a train claiming to be the product of Tom’s one, brief extramarital affair. Rose, though unconnected to these events, comes to the forefront of Tom’s life as they unfold. With her forthright self-confidence and ease around others, Tom is drawn to her magnetically, and the feeling appears mutual. Soon, the caregiving duo of Tom and Agnes expand their circle to include Rose and the boy, Henry. Rose’s signature qualities, however, also draw Tom’s colleagues—and their instabilities—out of the woodwork, complicating the surprising ease of this new family’s growth. With the sheer number of dramatic plot points, the novel should read like pulp, and there are quite a few loose ends to tie up in the conclusion, but Woodroof’s light hand and compassion for her characters make the story flow naturally. The question of what makes a family is gently asked and answered throughout.
A pleasant read about ordinary people dealing with extraordinary circumstances and the optimism that guides them.