cover image Unfinished Desires

Unfinished Desires

Gail Godwin, . . Random, $26 (396pp) ISBN 978-0-345-48320-1

Bestselling author Godwin (Evensong ; The Finishing School ) brings readers back in time to the early 1950s in this endearing story of Catholic school girls and the nuns who oversee them. As Mother Suzanne Ravenel begins a memoir of her 60-plus years at Mount St. Gabriel's School in Mountain City, N.C., she's forced to re-examine the “toxic year” of 1951–1952, one of her worst at the school—beginning with the arrival of ninth-grade student Chloe Starnes, who's recently lost her mother, and Mother Malloy, a beautiful young nun assigned to the freshman class. Starnes and Malloy's arrivals presage a shift in the ranks of freshman Tildy Stratton's cruel clique, with significant consequences for all involved. Change, when it finally comes, stems from the girls' attempt to revive a play written years before by Ravenel. Godwin captures brilliantly the subtleties of friendships between teenage girls, their ambivalence toward religion and their momentous struggle to define people—especially themselves. Poignant and transporting, this faux memoir makes a convincing, satisfying novel. (Dec.)