cover image The Confessions of Frances Godwin

The Confessions of Frances Godwin

Robert Hellenga. Bloomsbury, $26 (320p) ISBN 978-1-62040-549-9

In Hellenga’s (The Sixteen Pleasures) latest novel, a Latin scholar on the precipice of old age wistfully recounts her life—beginning in 1963, the year she and her husband “joined our bodies—if not our souls.” Francis Godwin, a lapsed Catholic and graduating senior at Knox College in Illinois (where Hellenga has taught since 1968), met Paul at a party in celebration of Shakespeare’s birthday. “Paul and I began a torrid affair—at least that’s how I thought of it at the time, though ‘torrid,’ from Latin torridus, meaning parched or scorched, — is perhaps not the right word.” Their marriage was a meeting of the minds, but also a pairing of opposites: “He loved Homer, I loved Vergil; he turned to Plato for his metaphysics, I turned to Lucretius.” In the last year of Paul’s life, their grown daughter Stella’s reprobate husband, Jimmy, wreaks havoc on their quiet lives, triggering a primal virulence within Francis unknown even to herself. Reeling from the aftershock of her impulsivity, which goes unpunished, she must reevaluate herself and her faith. The minor characters aren’t as strong as Francis, but Hellenga’s feisty and learned narrator, who travels from the Casa di Giulietta in Verona to TruckStopUSA in Ottawa, is an entertaining guide. (July)