The Headmaster's Wife, by Thomas Christopher Greene.
Now, standing on the same path, with the snow picking up and falling more steadily around him, he gives up trying to find this memory and instead focuses on the snow, tracing individual flakes as they come in front of his field of vision and then disappear. He is alone suddenly. There is no one walking in either direction. The park is his. He takes off his hat and places it on the ground. Then he removes his jacket. Next he undoes his tie and then his shirt and his undershirt. Soon he is naked, and he sets off again, leaving his clothes in a neat pile on the path, and he moves up and over the hilly terrain, his eyes straight ahead, oblivious to the people who gasp when they come around a corner to find him marching toward them. All that matters to him is the feel of his bare feet crunching wonderfully on the crusty snow beneath him.
To say that this novel threw me for a loop would be an understatement. At the beginning of the novel, we meet Arthur Winthrop, Headmaster of the Lancaster School, a prep school. He's married to Elizabeth, who sometimes attends school functions with him, but lately he's been enamored with Betsy Pappas, an 18-year-old transfer student. He sneaks around with Betsy until she unceremoniously dumps him, and at that point I thought something like "Good, he deserves it."
Then, a revelation in the middle of the book changes everything.
Like his father before him, Arthur Winthrop is the Headmaster of Vermont's elite Lancaster School. He is married to his college sweetheart, Elizabeth, and they live on the school campus, although without their son, Ethan, who opted out of college, joined the military and went to Iraq. Lancaster is where Arthur has built his life and established his legacy, but it is also the site of his undoing. On a cold winter's morning, Arthur is arrested after being found wandering naked in New York City's Central Park. After he begins to explain what happened to the police, details of an affair with a student and the subversive world of the boarding school emerges. However, as his story unfolds, his memories seem to collide into one another. Like pieces of a puzzle, Arthur's ramblings slowly begin to form the portrait that lies beneath his bizarre behavior and lead up to a shocking twist that brings the truth into sharp focus.
A beautifully written, profoundly emotional book, it is perfect for fans of Anita Shreve and Richard Russo, and stands as a moving elegy to the power of love as an antidote to grief.
The author of this book is interesting in that he started his own college - the Vermont College of Fine Arts - in 2008, which is still in existence. That college was the "backdrop" of sorts for The Headmaster's Wife. I also really liked the cover of this book, because it looked almost exactly like East Quad, the dorm I lived in at the University of Michigan for two years.
Arthur turns out to be an unreliable "narrator" (even though the book is in 3rd person), as you may have guessed, which made me have to pay more attention after the twist in the middle of the book - which I won't reveal here, but it's a definite game-changer.
I was also wondering why the novel was called The Headmaster's Wife, when the first half was about Arthur and his supposed indiscretions. The second half of the novel is all about Elizabeth, though (said "wife" in the title), and how she meets Arthur in school, and we find out later that the title really does aptly describe the book.
4 stars out of 5.
*Disclosure: I was given a copy of this book for reviewing purposes. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.
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