cover image Negative Space

Negative Space

Gillian Linden. Norton, $26.99 (176p) ISBN 978-1-324-06554-8

Linden’s penetrating debut novel (after the collection Remember How I Told You I Loved You?) depicts a woman balancing motherhood, teaching, and the uncertainties of the Covid-19 pandemic. The unnamed narrator is a part-time English teacher at a private New York City high school, beset by disengaged students and demanding parents. Before the pandemic, her husband was often abroad for work; now that he’s home, he does little to help raise their two young children. After the lockdown is lifted and school resumes in person, the narrator happens upon her student Olivia alone and unmasked in a classroom with Jeremy, the long-tenured head of the English department, with their heads touching. Over the next few days, the narrator relays her concerns to colleagues and administrators, but the school is slow to respond and alludes to ongoing legal and financial drama with Olivia’s extended family. Meanwhile, the narrator begins to doubt what she saw. Linden grounds her scorching insights on digital rabbit holes and other aspects of modern life in the poignancy of the everyday (while trying to uncover Olivia’s story online, the narrator observes, “The phone was like the children’s toy baskets, in which I’d find the felt doll Lewis had lost, and also dried-up clementine peels”). The result is an evocative study of the gap between intuition and truth. (Apr.)