In It Will Come to Me, an exquisitely styled, humanely satirical novel of academe, writer Emily Fox Gordon forges an unusual trackthat of a hurricaneto allow at least the possibility of redemption for her put-upon central couple. Ruth Blau is the author of an acclaimed trilogy of novels, now twenty-five years behind her. Ben Blau skimps on his bureaucratic duties as philosophy chair at the Lola Dees Institute (commonly known as Lola) to finish a book about altruism. Before Hurricane Heather can play its redemptive role in the ninth and final chapter of It Will Come to Me, Gordon skillfully alternates viewpoints between her two protagonists in the first eight.
Both Ben and Ruth have suffered seemingly irremediable personal and professional losses. Ruth has not written since the birth twenty-four years ago of their only child, Isaac. She has only a flawed manuscript to show for her former efforts at continuing her writing career. Isaac, now a dropout and mentally ill, has become a street person. His parents have not seen him for two years, and their only means of communicating with their son is through his eccentric psychaitrist. Ben, meanwhile, has lost his secretary Dolores, whose industrious dedication to her job enabled him to ignore his administrative duties and work on his book, Necessity of Altruism. Dolores has been transferred to a different department out of spite by Lola’s hated new dean, who refers to professors as “share-holders.”
Ruth is fed up with her current life at Lola, which she finds unbearably dull. She is bored by Philsophy Department potluck dinners and Ben’s philosophy students. “To all appearances they might have been working on MBAs or degrees in physical therapy.” Ruth sees little evidence that they are even having sex. They just want to get jobs, preferably teaching in a place like Lola. “They wanted to be marsupials, creatures with no natural enemies who could look forward to living out their days in absolute safety.” There has not been a scandal at Lola for twenty years. Ruth does not want to have an affair herself; she would just like to know that someone is having one. At worst, people have been “difficult” but seldom interesting. In her faculty-wife mufti of clogs, graying updo, and dangly ethnic jewelry bought on eBay, Ruth is, in her own word, “stuck.” Her moderately successful first bookwhich was on academehas been remaindered to dollar bins outside used-book shops. She drinks too much wine at parties. Her only excitement comes from epic arguments with Ben and watching dire weather reports about Hurricane Heather, a Category Four hurricane that is blowing toward the school.
Ruth desperately needs a catalyst to rouse her out of despair. Such a catalyst is provided with the start of the fall semester and the arrival of Ricia Spottiswodea new writer-in-residence, a young, charismatic teacher, and the author of a best-selling memoir. At their first meeting, Ruth is embarrassed when an old trustee sidles up to Ricia and croaks into her ear: “You say you a memwa-ist. Now dunnat make you a nahsussist?” Invited by Ricia to share Whole Lives Devoured, her stalled manuscript, Ruth carries the bulky manuscript to a coffeehouse as if she were “transporting a packet of X-raysto a consultation with an...
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