The distinctions between investigation, fixation, and obsession in a story of a young woman who becomes fascinated by another woman in early-20th-century New England.
“[The] green geometries of the farmlands, a tiny white church spire discerned amid a cluster of trees, and widely scattered rooftops then of barns and houses” make up Eleanor Gray’s first glimpse of East Becket, the town where she’ll answer her calling as a schoolteacher. A “young female possessed of hair as pale as cornsilk, her skin all but translucent” is her initial assessment of Evangeline Sewell, who will loom large in her time in East Becket. As Eleanor begins her life among the common folk, her classroom goes as might be suspected, but Evangeline is soon intruding on Eleanor’s thoughts—“perhaps to an unnatural extent.” Under mysterious circumstances, Evangeline promptly disappears to a nearby town called Wisdom Way, and when Eleanor writes her a letter, she’s rebuffed by the young woman, though Evangeline does accept Eleanor’s offer to act as a go-between for messages to others. Evangeline follows up with terse requests but offers no explanation for why she has vanished. Still, Eleanor remains mesmerized, and what started as a journey among the familiar has been changed by “the magical effect that this young female worked on some of those around her.” Eleanor takes up with Alonzo Klaw, an artist who has spent hours drawing Evangeline, in a journey to Wisdom Way, where they learn that Evangeline has just given birth. The questions loom: Is Evangeline more like Lizzie Borden, or a kind of local Joan of Arc? The pursuit (a concern? a courting?) continues nevertheless, and Eleanor will finally catch up with Evangeline. But will it all end like a fairy tale, or a romance?
A haunting tale from an established voice (The Bitterest Age, 1994, etc.).