The death of a star student at an upper-crust university unsettles friends, faculty and family in a piercing novel from veteran novelist Stone (Fun With Problems, 2010, etc.).
Stone’s eighth novel introduces student Maud Stack as a privileged young woman enveloped by a cloud of danger and collapse. The manicured, Ivy-ish campus is rife with halfway-house residents, mentally ill homeless people and addicts—that last group a class that includes plenty of students, too. Maud has her own issues with drinking, but her biggest problems are the ongoing affair she’s pursued with Steven, a married professor, and a column she’s written for the campus paper mocking anti-abortion protesters at a nearby hospital. Just as Maud’s writing grabs attention and her relationship with Steven falls apart, she’s killed in a car accident. The novel isn’t halfway done by then, and what follows isn’t an easy morality play about abortion rhetoric or teacher-student relationships. Rather, Stone pursues a close study of how Maud’s death has undone many of the certainties of those around her. The incident drives her father back to drinking and pondering past corruptions. An adviser recalls her own history as a protester and reconsiders her faith. And Steven, who was arguing with a drunken Maud before her death, reckons with his own complicity. Stone gives this story the rough shape of a police procedural—Steven is the main person of interest—which gives the prose some snap and avoids sodden, moralizing lectures. What emerges from Stone’s crisp storytelling is a critique of tribalism of all sorts—religious, academic, police—that doesn’t damn those institutions but reveals how they work to protect their own interests at the expense of those of others.
An unusual but poised mix of noir and town-and-gown novel, bolstered by Stone’s well-honed observational skills.