by Anita Shreve
A spectacular novel that examines how lives fly off-course in even the most conservative and protected environments. I found this through Caitlin Flanagan’s superb and thoughtful essay in The Atlantic, which you may read without fear of spoilers. Avery Academy is a prep school in rural Vermont, populated by rich kids from the city and a few deserving sons and daughters of local farmers. The headmaster, who is a nice and thoughtful fellow, has just received a distressing videotape in which three boys from the school are having sex with a freshman, and he knows at once that nothing will ever be the same again. He is not wrong. Shreve does an exceptional job of capturing the sound of real people in a real school, and of making it all matter outside the gates. The story is told from every point of view, and though it centers on the headmaster, some of the most memorable chapters are told from such unexpected angles as the school cafeteria cook, the town real estate agent, and the freshman girl’s roommate.