In the second novel by Gibbon (Swimming Sweet Arrow, 2000), a woman who was raped as a teenager begins a correspondence—and then rather more than a correspondence—with a convicted rapist who’s in prison.
Suzanne is a Twin Cities teacher who works with troubled teens. Coming off the latest in a series of tempestuous relationships with flawed and slightly dangerous men, she decides to give up her apartment for the summer, retreat to a lake in northern Minnesota and regather her strength and her wits in anonymity. Lonely, she places a personal ad, and before long she embarks on an exchange of letters—at first wary, then increasingly frank—with a prisoner named Alpha Breville. As the summer wears on, she finds herself more and more embroiled, both emotionally and erotically, with this man for whom she feels a simultaneous attraction (a tricky thing to convey to the reader, but Gibbon accomplishes it) and repulsion (an easy thing to overdo, but Gibbon shows restraint). Suzanne keeps driving several hours downstate to visit Breville, wearing more and more revealing outfits to titillate him—and questioning her motives and her aims every step of the way. In the meantime, she gets involved with an unreliable, hard-drinking drifter, a howling cowboy prone to unpredictable appearances and disappearances. In an odd way this book is a female, and highly sexual, version of Thoreau’s Walden; there are some lovely bits about solitude, nature and solitude-in-nature, but Suzanne is a woman who craves and needs contact, and much of her contemplation is devoted to exploring the tangled roots of that need.
Grim but inspiring, this is a flint-tough, plainspoken novel about a flint-tough, plainspoken woman who asks no pity and gives no quarter.