It started so well. We’re by the side of a dreamy lake, at an obscure Liberal Arts College in the swinging sixties where a teacher and student argue, and subsequently fall into a passionate love affair. Lee is a poet from an old school family, Peggy is a precocious and talented student. Both are unsure of direction, identity, gender and sexuality. A beautiful period piece, with some stunning, staccato’d, sparse prose. It puts me in mind of the best bits of Donna Tartt.
So far, so my kind of book.
But as we follow them chronologically, we get a secondary set of characters, not nearly as compelling as the first. One is a spoilt son of money, another a Manic Pixie Dream girl, and the last a talented underdog. I find this is often the problem with plots centred on multiple generations and the shift from one age to another; perhaps inevitably, characters become derivatives of their forebearers.
Perhaps I’m being harsh on the kids. They’re only less exciting because Peggy and Lee have such crackling chemistry and their time together is a perfect vignette. The scene where Peggy gets her revenge by driving Lee’s car into the lake is joyful in how icy-cool she is in her rage (NOT A SPOILER, see cover). Her heroic dash into the Deep South is thrilling and quirky, like herself.
Zink is clever and sharp and cool. Her book says incisive things about gender and race. I just wish we’d stayed in the sixties, on the shores of Stillwater lake.