The Last First Day

Carrie Brown, Author
Carrie Brown. Pantheon, $24.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-307-90803-2
Reviewed on: 08/19/2013
Release date: 09/17/2013
Open Ebook - 272 pages - 978-0-307-90804-9
Open Ebook - 1 pages - 978-1-299-82309-9
Paperback - 304 pages - 978-0-345-80318-4
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Glancing at a paragraph or a page of Brown's (The Rope Walk) torpid novel might give an impression of glinting pathos and well-rendered nostalgia, but, though well-written on a sentence-by-sentence level, it falls short as a whole. Ruth, preparing for the last first day of her husband's tenure as headmaster at a New England boarding school, looks back on their life together; their early marriage, their fights, her struggle to fit into her role as headmaster's wife. She reflects on their gradual aging and her resentment over their imminent ouster from the school. In between these reminiscences, the plot crawls forward: it take Ruth 50 pages to progress from dressing herself and readying the house for a party, to leaving the house, another 50 pages to get through the dinner and speech that will precede the party. When hints of tragedy and drama are introduced, they are too late or too overwhelmed to be anything but odd distractions. A later section in the book in which Ruth relates her terrible childhood and her youthful encounters with Peter is much more sequential and successful, but it is not enough to save this novel from the weight of its insistent poignancy. (Sept.)
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