A teacher seduces a senior at a New England prep school.
Ethan Whitley is new at Berkley Academy in rural Massachusetts. The 17-year-old has transferred from California, where his parents are Stanford professors. His mother has cancer and wants to spare him her suffering. Ethan is not a good fit with the rich kids and the jocks, but he strikes up a friendship with Todd Eldon, who seems to have it all: a pretty, sexually experienced girlfriend and a sophisticated, moneyed background (his mother is a popular novelist in New York City). Underneath, however, Todd is as insecure as Ethan. He is attracted to the Californian’s smarts, and his body, for Todd’s sexual preferences are changing; soon he will dump his girlfriend and make advances toward Ethan, who’s not interested; he’s a virgin, but resolutely straight. Complicating the picture is 36-year-old Hannah McClellan, an English teacher who on the side bakes desserts for the local tearoom. In his second novel (The Trouble Boy, 2004), London-born Dolby tells two coming-of-age stories (one would have been enough) while focusing on teacher-student infatuation, a story line that stretches back to the 1953 Broadway hit Tea and Sympathy. Hannah likes them young and guess what, so did the school’s female founder, who also seduced a 17-year-old. Though sex is the core of the novel, Dolby is reticent about the details, deflecting attention to Hannah’s lurid past in Paris, where she made out with her stepson (her French husband had been cheating on her); the affair ended with the kid’s suicide. Nothing so melodramatic happens this time, though when Ethan tries to extricate himself from her suffocating intensity, Hannah uses her wiles to keep him, even faking pregnancy. When it’s clear not even her scrumptious blueberry cobbler will work, she abruptly leaves the school and is not heard from again, allowing Ethan to start over at Yale. Can healing and closure be far behind?
Timid and superficial.