We Do What We Do in the Dark

Michelle Hart. Riverhead, $26 (224p) ISBN 978-0-593-32967-2

Hart debuts with a transfixing queer coming-of-age novel about a woman’s affair with a much older professor. Mallory Green is in her first year at a college on Long Island shortly after her mother’s death from cancer in 2008. There, she becomes fixated on a never-named woman who teaches children’s literature. The professor, who is brusque but encouraging in their conversations, invites Mallory over for dinner. Her husband is away, and she makes plain her own attraction to Mallory. Despite feeling “embarrassed, as if she’d written an intense journal entry that she now had to read aloud,” Mallory plunges into an affair with her. The woman ends it when her professor husband returns at the end of the semester, leaving Mallory floundering as she attempts to date a male student and later drifts through postgraduation life in New York City. A flashback to Mallory’s youth traces her close friendship with a neighbor girl, saturated with frustrated desire. The professor’s reappearance four years after graduation, just as Mallory is settling into a new relationship, opens old wounds. Mallory’s intense interiority and self-consciousness will remind readers of Sally Rooney’s work, and Hart’s prose is delicate and piercing. This is auspicious and breathtaking. Agent: Sarah Burnes, Gernert Company. (May)
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