The Headmaster’s Wife by Thomas Christopher Greene

The Headmaster’s Wife by Thomas Christopher Greene
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (277 pgs)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Thistledown

Inspired by a personal loss, Greene explores the way that tragedy and time assail one man’s memories of his life and loves. Like his father before him, Arthur Winthrop is the Headmaster of Vermont’s elite Lancaster School. It is the place he feels has given him his life, but is also the site of his undoing as events spiral out of his control. Found wandering naked in Central Park, he begins to tell his story to the police, but his memories collide into one another, and the true nature of things, a narrative of love, of marriage, of family and of a tragedy Arthur does not know how to address emerges. Luminous and atmospheric, bringing to life the tight-knit enclave of a quintessential New England boarding school, the novel is part mystery, part love story and an exploration of the ties of place and family. Beautifully written and compulsively readable, The Headmaster’s Wife stands as a moving elegy to the power of love as an antidote to grief.

We are not the sum of our grief.

Suspense abounds in this mystery of what, when and who. Arthur Winthrop is the headmaster at Lancaster Academy just like his father before him. When he spies the elusive Betsy Pappas, his life is altered forever. He breaks every rule to see her. His career heads south, as does his marriage. When he kills her in a fit of possessive rage, all bets are off and everything about his existance is about to be turned upside down.

Elizabeth is Arthur’s wife. She is dealing with a profound grief, but as you read the book, it is unclear just what that is. To be honest, the first half of the book left me cold. Man with midlife crisis has affair with girl barely of age. Okay. It happens. Man kills girl when girl refuses to play along. Not so common. But when Arthur is found frolicking in the park naked and obviously out of his mind, the story travels down a different path.

The dividing line for this book for me was smack dab in the middle. Sitting in the police station, Arthur is being quizzed about the order of events and then the bombshell is brought out. Nothing you have just read is the way it appears to be. I won’t give details because that would completely ruin the story. Suffice it to say that the things that make us who we are to some degree are about the people we surround ourselves with, love, loss, expectations met and unmet and how we deal with each of those things. Life is messy and it doesn’t follow a script.

Written after the death of his daughter, author Thomas Christopher Greene used this book to channel his grief. It shows. This is not a fluffy book that takes a pass at the hard knocks of life with a feather duster. This book will yank your chain and leave you thinking about it. I read it in one day. To be honest, I hated the first part. Arthur is not a likable person, especially for the female reader. You want to reach into the pages of the book and shake him just like his wife did. ‘Wake up, Arthur!’ Exactly. But can we wake up when the thing we wanted most from life is taken from us over and over again. How much can I take as a human being and still function? That is the question here? Are we the sum of our grief and do we give it mastery over our lives? Our death?

The situations in this book are ones that gave me food for thought. As I hit the middle, there was no stopping. I had to find out what was going on. I suspect if you pick this novel up, you will have the same reaction. It was like having a container of buttered popcorn-the pour over kind. You take a taste and keep on munching. One bite is not enough. I had to know-who was Betsy? Who was Elizabeth? What was Arthur’s deal?

If you want a piece of fiction that challenges your notions about what is important in life then pick this book up. It will not disappoint.

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