I rose to stand, lifting my lantern, and I thought: as surely as one of these lanterns can light the next, so has the fire in him rekindled the fire in me. Where once I died down to nothing, I was alive again, and all was his doing. I was afire with him, and for once the thought was not terrible (p 197).
Stuck in a loveless marriage, Judy enters into a sensual affair with sixteen-year-old Zach, a new student at the Waldorf school where Judy teaches kindergarten. What begins as a mutually titillating experience soon becomes destructive.
The story begins in Germany when Judy is a ten-year-old child. She finds solace from her mentally ill mother and adulterous father in a neighbor’s barn. There she is befriended by an older farm boy, Rudy, with physical prowess. As they bond over sled rides and their mutual dislike of German fairy tales, a subtle sexual undertone emerges and the two share an overly friendly kiss.
But it isn’t until Judy’s self-medicated and disassociated husband, Russ, uncovers Judy’s dark passenger that the reader begins to understand Judy is malicious and unstable.
Coleman’s language, the novel’s pacing and alternating perspectives combine to make an engrossing read. There is a depth to Judy’s character that had me at turns commiserating then chastising then sympathizing all over again. Her logic, at the beginning, seems rational. When Judy pinpoints the moment she becomes a child molester (forcing an unwilling Zach), the reader is tempted to agree – almost, but never really, forgetting she has been molesting him from the first. Judy has had the power from the beginning.
While Zach’s perspective was interesting, his character was not as well explored as Judy’s. Regardless, this was altogether a fascinating, well-structured and evenly paced read.