I already only thought this little novel was ok headed into the last few short chapters. But then something frustrating happened to me as I read it. It became increasing clear that this novel was a rehash (even if unwittingly) of a novel I love and think is supremely good: LP Hartley’s The Go-Between. So maybe this one didn’t actually need to be pulled out of Santmyer’s leftover documents and papers, because not only is the story in this novel almost exactly the same as that previous novel, which is much more famous and better, that novel had a lot more to say.
The story here is that an adult is looking back at her childhood by visiting her hometown and doing family research. As she goes back for the summer, she remembers the deeply tragic and galvanizing story of her tenth (or so) summer when she was embroiled in the love affair between her older cousin and a farmhand. As the younger tag along, she acted as both mascot, excuse to see each other, and dare I say it — Go-Between of the young, but doomed lover.
Santmyer has a strange place in American fiction, and a strange career to boot. She was born in the 1890s, and is most famous by far for her mid80s bestseller And the Ladies of the Club which clocks in at 1200 pages (and is more or less like a series of novels, than one complete one). But she also previously published two novels in the 1920s in her 30s, one in the 60s, in her 60s, and this the magnum opus right around the time of her death.
So this previously written, but unpublished novella was one more go at things for her literary estate. Anyway, you should go read LP Hartley’s The Go-Between, which is fantastic, and already has a derivative novel based on it: Ian McEwan’s Atonement.