Brownrigg prunes back the overextended abstractions that weighed down The Metaphysical Touch (1999) to produce an affectingly slender love story.
Coltish Flannery Jansen arrives from the west for her freshman year at carefully unnamed Yale University knowing nothing: not what autumn looks like, or what to order for breakfast, or how to wear her hair. And the coolly appraising eye of Anne Arden, the teaching assistant for the section of Introduction to Criticism she signs up for, makes her even more awkward and self-conscious. Since Brownrigg scorns the romantic-comedy artifices that might have kept the two women apart, however—the only obstacle here is Flannery's emotional turmoil—by Thanksgiving break they've consummated their affair over a New York weekend. The narrative voice, which, apart for a couple of imprudent glances inside Anne, remains locked into Flannery's perspective, is so ardent that the love affair seems not so much described as overheard, an effect that's accentuated by a prologue offering these lyrical, warmly episodic pages to a hopelessly distant ex-lover. Brownrigg (Ten Women Who Shook the World, 2000) floats her romantic couple along in such a hothouse atmosphere—apart from a math major with a crush on Flannery and a Korean student with a crush on Anne, there's scarcely another character on display, and the lovers' chance encounter with a pair of anonymous Florida honeymooners leads to disaster—that their world of poetry and smoking and clinging kisses seems complete in itself. Of course, no world that's been so easily won is going to remain complete for very long, and the affair ends in a flurry of missteps that seem just as facile as its vaulting ascent to the heights of bliss.
A valentine that perfectly captures love's power to isolate the lovers from the rest of the world—and, in the end, from each other.