Martin and Jenny's marriage has been threatened by a sexual indiscretion. They seek reconciliation with the help of a skilled therapist, amid new stresses at their son's school and a sudden tripling of Martin's teaching load. Hovering over and nagging at Martin's consciousness is the question of his mother, who deserted the family when Martin was only 4. Now, he finds, he must search for her. He and Jenny discover that some questions have answers, but there are others for which no answer is possible.
MIT professor Senturia doesn't just share a glimpse into the backstage of the academic world he knows so well, as through Martin and the kids he delves into urgent educational questions–from treatment of racial incidents in school to what would make a new program truly cutting edge. Such serious consideration of the realities of education is rare in contemporary fiction, even novels about academia, and his keen understanding of the complexities shine through, though at times narrative momentum is diminished by Senturia’s interest in technical matters.
Senturia also focuses on exploration of relationships, especially the reconstruction of damaged ones, observing through Martin: “This is what his entire career in science had led him to believe, that there were discoverable truths, objective truths that could be analyzed, verified. But life doesn’t offer those kinds of truths.” Such wisdom—and a welcome sense of humanity and hopefulness—distinguishes the novel, though at times a lack of nuance weighs on the story. The happy yet very open ending is satisfying, though it will leave fans of serious contemporary fiction eager for more.
Takeaway: In this striking, hopeful novel, a professor endeavors to build a new program– and rebuild his damaged marriage.
Great for fans of: John Williams’s Stoner, Jane Smiley’s Moo.
Design and typography: B
Marketing copy: B