A story of sex abuse and its aftermath from the author of My Liar 2008) and What to Keep (2004).
It’s 2009, and Nora Buchbinder is stranded in middle age with a dead mother, a missing cat, and a magnificent apartment she can neither afford to furnish nor legally sell. She’s just given up the freelance life and taken a desk job with the New York Education Department because she wants health insurance. The work is tedious—until the case of a predatory teacher takes her back to her own experience at a private girls’ school in the 1970s. Like so many women of her generation, Nora struggles to reconcile her adolescent feelings about sexual freedom with what she knows now about consent and power. Then she learns that the teacher whose case she’s handling is being represented by Beth, her former best friend and a favorite of their own eighth-grade instructor, Bob Rasmussen….A full reckoning with the past and what it means in the present is inevitable. Nora is a beautifully crafted character. Late in the book, she comments on her own “prickliness,” and the word is perfect. Nora is sharp and hard to get close to, and now, in her 50s, she’s trying to understand how much of that is a reaction to Mr. Rasmussen—his behavior toward Nora but also what she knows about him and Beth and a handful of other girls. Her story is interwoven with emails written by Rasmussen himself as well as beyond-the-grave narration from Rasmussen’s wife, Naomi. These portions of the book are less successful. Bob Rasmussen is a creep, and not a terribly repentant one. His self-justifications aren’t especially revelatory; they’re just gross. Naomi is slightly more interesting, but Cline has granted her an omniscience—because she’s dead?—that feels a bit like cheating.
An uneven exploration of a timely topic.