Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Headmaster's Wife -- Thomas Christopher Greene

I picked up The Headmaster's Wife solely because I read somewhere in some piece on Thomas Christopher Greene that he'd written it during a time of personal trials and had dedicated it to the memory of the child for whom he grieves. 

Any of us, and by that I mean all of us, who have found ourselves boxing our own way out of that darkness know that it's a different exercise for each of us. I was curious to find out what a writer does with such an arsenal of emotion, especially since this was not a memoir, not a work of non-fiction, but instead came with buzz review words that suggested it was a work of psychological suspense, á la Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl

It opens with boarding school Headmaster Arthur Winthrop wandering naked through the snow in Central Park. He is detained by law enforcement and under interrogation he begins at the beginning of his own end. The story he tells reveals him as rather a pathetic excuse for everything he purports to be: an educator, a husband, a father. I was ready to put Greene down as an Updike sort, right up until.... well. 

You know I hate spoilerish reviews, so you know that's all you're getting from me as concerns the story(ies). 

Greene has written one of the most discomfiting novels I've read in recent years, one that kept me guessing and wondering to the very end -- and not only wondering about how it would end, but how to characterize it in any simple way to anyone who might ask. On that score, I still have no good answer. All I know is that once you're hooked, you just hang on on the ride.  

While I did find the ending to be weaker than it might have been, I can't fathom what a stronger one might have been. I don't require a happy ending (which isn't to say this had a happy ending); I just want an honest one. I'm not sure this was that, but it was not weak enough to detract from what had been a most consuming and -- dare I say it? -- poignant novel. 

Thomas Dunne Books
St. Martin's Press
February 2014 

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