Debut author Post crafts a whimsical tale about an academic’s unexpected walk upon a road less traveled.
Kate Brown, a literature professor who’s an expert on the author Herman Melville, is on the path to academic glory. Harvard University plucked the young Midwesterner from Northwestern to give her a tenure-track position. Then her college’s dean peremptorily informs her that she’ll be filling in for a professor on sabbatical, teaching the freshman seminar on Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. Kate is taken aback by this development, thinking it’s daunting “for someone who hasn’t experienced the outdoors, except through the windows of a library these past four years, to teach a book about the joys of living in the midst of nature.” However, Kate immerses herself in the topic and is soon aided by one of her students, Heather Channing, who comes from a region called Walden North in rural Vermont. When Kate visits there, Thoreau’s message resonates with her: “Everything is interconnected here. She took a long, slow deep breath to inhale this new insight—a tranquil wholeness.” She soon finds herself torn between two men (and two lifestyles): roguish fellow professor Charles Blake Winthrop Prentiss, the epitome of Harvard snobbishness; and Heather’s father, William, a stoic educator who walked away from Harvard to become the seeming mirror image of Thoreau himself. The novel believably recounts Kate’s transformation from a scholar wed to the theoretical to a person craving all the real-life experiences that a simpler existence has to offer. Post’s characters are well-drawn, although it quickly becomes obvious where her own allegiances lie; after all, she’s a former teacher who lives in a New England setting not unlike Walden North. Her use of italicized passages from Walden in the text seems a little twee and heavy-handed, but it doesn’t greatly diminish the enjoyment of her tale. Overall, her message, emblazoned in Kate’s philosophical journey, will make readers stop and reflect.
A subtle novel that’s a glowing testament to the enduring power of ideas.