So the context of my reading this book might make a difference. I am switching jobs….specifically I am a high teacher and in the middle of switching school systems. I am a city teacher moving to the county because essentially a broken system seeps into you (I promise there’s research that supports this) and changes blah blah blah. But one of the results is that I am feeling a little bit guilty and a little bit insecure about where I should work (which of the county schools I am interviewing with). Do I go for the best school in the district where I will be serving the students of the richest whitest people in the county, the slightly more rural but much more mixed student population, or the right on the border between city and county where the student population is much the same, but the different districts are so much better run.
So that puts me in a similar position as one of the two protagonists/narrators in this novel, the star athlete from Yonkers who goes to the rich white kid school because his mom lobbied the school to move him from the much “rougher” urban school. His narration is so pained and hurt and good that at various times as I was driving around checking out the different schools this past week, I was actually crying in my car listening to the novel being narrated. His story involves dealing with a loving but very sick (definitely alcoholic, but maybe also physically ill) mother.
The other protagonist is the mother’s former college professor who two decades after “being disgraced” (accused of an improper but not illegal relationship with the mother) is now a kind-hearted shut-in who weighs 500+ pounds.
I wasn’t sure what this novel was going to be when I started. The professor narrator was a little affected at the beginning so I thought it was going to be a more tongue-in-cheek ribbing of his ridiculous. The narration of the teenage star athlete was also ripe for satire.
But instead, this is a beautifully narrated, beautifully written novel about loss and psychology and internal/external motivation.
It doesn’t have any of the kind of scientific overview of The Known World, but this novel is every bit as good.