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The Headmaster's Wife
     

The Headmaster's Wife

3.7 26
by Thomas Christopher Greene
 

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"Part of a grand literary tradition . . . Greene's plot has the tight, relentless pacing of a fine detective novel . . . Deeply felt . . . and utterly absorbing."—The Washington Post

Like his father before him, Arthur Winthrop is the headmaster of Vermont's elite Lancaster School. It is the place he feels has

Overview

"Part of a grand literary tradition . . . Greene's plot has the tight, relentless pacing of a fine detective novel . . . Deeply felt . . . and utterly absorbing."—The Washington Post

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.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“A tightly woven, atmospheric thriller about a New England academic whose life goes off the rails.” —People

“Part of a grand literary tradition . . . Greene's plot has the tight, relentless pacing of a fine detective novel . . . Deeply felt . . . and utterly absorbing.” —The Washington Post

“Had me hooked from page one . . . This wise, tender, and gracefully executed literary thriller will no doubt bewitch you too.” —Redbook

“Haunting . . . twists back in time through love, grief, betrayal, and love again.” —Good Housekeeping

“A truly remarkable novel.” —Richard Russo, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Empire Falls

“An accomplished and artful storyteller, Greene has surprises in store as he unspools a plot that becomes as poignant as it is unpredictable.” —Wally Lamb, New York Times bestselling author of We Are Water

“Greene's genre-bending novel of madness and despair evokes both the predatory lasciviousness of Nabokov's classic, Lolita, and the anxious ambiguity of Gillian Flynn's contemporary thriller, Gone Girl (2012).” —Booklist

“Nothing is what it appears in this brilliant story of a life gone awry … The author's true intentions make this tale even more remarkable, for the book is, at its core, a trenchant examination of one family's terrible loss and how the aftermath of tragedy can make or break a person's soul.” —Publishers Weekly

“Greene has created a brilliant, harrowing novel depicting the spectacular unraveling of a once distinguished and proudly successful man. He has also conceived one of the most convincingly drawn unreliable narrators that readers may ever meet, a character recalling the creations of Edgar Allan Poe . . . This is a riveting psychological novel about loss and the terrible mistakes and compromises one can make in love and marriage. Essential for fans of literary fiction.” —Library Journal (Starred Review)

“A moving testament to the vicissitudes of love and loss, regret and hope.” —Kirkus

“Incredibly beautiful and compulsively readable, The Headmaster's Wife will keep you mesmerized into the wee hours. A master storyteller, Greene's biggest achievement is proving that the most complex mystery of all is how and why we love.” —Kimberly McCreight, New York Times bestselling author of Reconstructing Amelia

“I devoured this book. It has all the hooks – a mystery, a marriage, an investigation, a loss, a close-up of a society I'm not privy to--and yet, at its heart, there are unexpected love stories embedded within. Thomas Christopher Greene is a wonderfully accomplished novelist, and The Headmaster's Wife is both psychologically complex and wickedly fast-paced.” —Julianna Baggott, New York Times bestselling author of Pure

Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Empire Fall Richard Russo

A truly remarkable novel.
New York Times bestselling author of Reconstructin Kimberly McCreight

Incredibly beautiful and compulsively readable, The Headmaster's Wife will keep you mesmerized into the wee hours. A master storyteller, Greene's biggest achievement is proving that the most complex mystery of all is how and why we love.
Publishers Weekly
11/11/2013
Nothing is what it appears in this brilliant story of a life gone awry, in Greene’s fourth novel set in New England (after 2007’s Envious Moon). Arthur Winthrop, headmaster of the Vermont-based Lancaster School, is found wandering around naked in snow-covered Central Park in New York City, and as he explains to the authorities what brought him to this disturbing situation, the reader is led to believe that the book will be the story of his ill-advised affair with a female student named Betsy Pappas. But it is actually about the trajectory of Arthur’s inauspicious marriage; about Betsy, a young woman trying to improve her lot; and about Arthur’s family history. Greene, founder of the Vermont College of Fine Arts, ably recreates the rarified ambience of a New England private school—the awareness of social class, the faculty politics, the deference paid to the headmaster and his family. And when it becomes clear that Winthrop’s delusions run far deeper than were previously apparent, the author’s true intentions make this tale even more remarkable, for the book is, at its core, a trenchant examination of one family’s terrible loss and how the aftermath of tragedy can make or break a person’s soul. Agent: Marly Rusoff, Marly Rusoff & Associates. (Mar.)
Library Journal
★ 11/15/2013
Greene (Mirror Lake; Envious Moon) has created a brilliant, harrowing novel depicting the spectacular unraveling of a once distinguished and proudly successful man. He has also conceived one of the most convincingly drawn unreliable narrators that readers may ever meet, a character recalling the creations of Edgar Allan Poe. It is nearly halfway through the novel before we begin to understand that our storyteller, Arthur Winthrop, the headmaster of the elite Lancaster School in Vermont, is delusional and psychotic—and has suffered a catastrophic mental breakdown. A number of events trigger this collapse, including the loss of his son in the Iraq war and the heavy drinking that follows this tragedy. Also crucial to this breakdown is an old crime that haunts Arthur, one he committed at Lancaster as a student many years ago with the help of his father, the previous headmaster, and which involved the boyfriend of an ex-girlfriend of Arthur's. VERDICT This is a riveting psychological novel about loss and the terrible mistakes and compromises one can make in love and marriage. Essential for fans of literary fiction.—Patrick Sullivan, Manchester Community Coll., CT
Kirkus Reviews
2013-12-22
A headmaster and his wife suffer intimations of mortality on a bucolic Vermont campus. The first half of Greene's fourth novel (Envious Moon, 2007, etc.) unfolds like a conventional academic tale. The third generation head of Lancaster, an exclusive Vermont prep school, Arthur Winthrop (his father, the former head, still lives on campus) leads an orderly life, except for occasional brushes with imperious board members whose New England pedigrees are even more elite than his own. However, Arthur's marriage to Elizabeth (the couple is in their late 50s) has long since deteriorated into strained conversations and separate bedrooms. The couple was driven further apart when their only son, Ethan, opted for service in Iraq instead of college. Since Ethan's departure, Elizabeth finds solace only in obsessive tennis playing. Arthur's obsession is a student, 18-year-old Betsy Pappas, whose unconventional beauty, but most of all youth, fascinates him. He lures her to Boston on a pretext and seduces her. However, she soon tires of what she considers a training exercise with an older man and tries to disengage by dating a star basketball player, Russell Hurley, who attends Lancaster on scholarship. Arthur first tries to blackmail Betsy into continuing their affair by hiding alcohol under Russell's dorm bed but then, somewhat arbitrarily, allows disciplinary matters to take their course. Russell is expelled, and his one chance of breaking out of the working class and into the Ivy League has been dashed. Italicized interludes throughout reveal that Arthur has been picked up by NYC police after being found wandering naked in Central Park. Just as we begin to understand that this is no ordinary interrogation, the novel takes a wholly unexpected twist, which is then compounded by another, even more surprising one. Up to this point, readers will suspect only that the story could be taking place anytime in the last 40 years or so. Although the puzzle element threatens to overwhelm the narrative, this is a moving testament to the vicissitudes of love and loss, regret and hope.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781250062338
Publisher:
Picador
Publication date:
02/24/2015
Pages:
288
Sales rank:
197,421
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt

ACRIMONY
 

He arrives at the park by walking down Central Park West and then entering through the opening at West Seventy-seventh Street. This is in the winter. It is early morning, and the sun is little more than an orangey haze behind heavy clouds in the east. Light snow flurries fill the air. There are not many people out, a few runners and women bundled against the cold pushing strollers.
He walks down the asphalt drive and when he reaches a path with a small wooden footbridge he stops for a moment, and it is there somewhere, a snatch of memory, but he cannot reach it. An elderly couple comes toward him, out for their morning walk. The man gives him a hearty good morning but he looks right through him. What is it he remembers? It is something beautiful, he is sure of it, but it eludes him like so many things seem to do nowadays.
If he could access it, what he would see was a day twenty years earlier, in this same spot. Though it was not winter, but a bright fall day, the maples bleeding red, and he is not alone. Elizabeth is here, as is his son, Ethan. They had gone to the museum and then had lunch before coming into the park. Ethan’s first trip to New York, and he is five, and though he loved the museum with its giant dinosaur skeletons, it is the park that draws his attention. The day could not be more glorious. Seasonably warm and without a cloud in the sky: a magical Manhattan day.
Ethan runs ahead of them on the path. His wife takes his arm, leans into him. He looks down and smiles at her. They don’t need to speak, for they are both drinking in the moment, the day, the happiness of their boy, and the gift of this experience. There is no reason to give it words.
Ethan finds a gnarled tree on the side of the path, one that grows horizontally just a foot or so above the ground. He immediately climbs up on top of it, shimmying his little body over its trunk, and the two of them sit on a bench a few feet away and watch him.
A couple of times they suggest they should keep walking, but the boy will not have it. He has found a tree perfectly suited for him and he demands in the way that children do that he be watched, admired, and studied as he climbs it one way, then the other. And this is okay, for they are in no rush. It is a small moment, but a perfect one. The child is right: Where else would they rather be? What could be more complete?
Now, standing on the same path, with the snow picking up and falling more steadily around him, he gives up trying to find this memory and instead focuses on the snow, tracing individual flakes as they come in front of his field of vision and then disappear. He is alone suddenly. There is no one walking in either direction. The park is his. He takes off his hat and places it on the ground. Then he removes his jacket. Next he undoes his tie and then his shirt and his undershirt. Soon he is naked, and he sets off again, leaving his clothes in a neat pile on the path, and he moves up and over the hilly terrain, his eyes straight ahead, oblivious to the people who gasp when they come around a corner to find him marching toward them. All that matters to him is the feel of his bare feet crunching wonderfully on the crusty snow beneath him.

 
Why don’t you tell us what happened?”
“What happened?”
“Yes.”
“Where should I start?”
“Where do you want to start?”
He looks at the men sitting across from him. It is a stupid question, he thinks.
He says, “At the beginning, of course.”
“That would be helpful,” says the man who does all the talking.
“Why do you care?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, why do you care? Just as it sounds.” He was growing exasperated. “What am I to you?”
“Sir, do we need to refresh you on how we found you?”
“I was in the park.”
One of the men laughs. The other one silences him with his hand. “Yes, you were in the park. Naked. Twenty-degree weather. Snow on the ground. Walking in Central Park naked.”
“Is that a crime?”
“Yes. It is, in fact.”
“In Vermont it’s not.”
“Seriously?”
“Yes. You can be naked. You just can’t be obscene.”
“What’s the difference?”
He sighs. He looks down at his clothes. They are too big for him. He is practically swimming in these damn clothes.
“Do I have to answer that?”
“No.”
“Good. Because that will tire me.”
“Just start, then.”
“Okay,” he says. “But I want some coffee. Strong coffee. Black.”
The man nods. “We’ll get that for you. Begin.”
He leans forward. “The beginning,” he says. “This is how it starts.”

 
Copyright © 2014 by Thomas Christopher Greene

Meet the Author

THOMAS CHRISTOPHER GREENE is the author of three previous novels: Mirror Lake, I'll Never be Long Gone, and Envious Moon. His fiction has been translated into eleven languages and has won many awards and honors. In 2007, Tom founded the Vermont College of Fine Arts, a top fine arts college, making him the youngest college president in America at that time. He lives in Montpelier, VT, with his family.

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The Headmaster's Wife 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 26 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I just finished this book, while it is a fast read and did have one interesting plot twist, I just felt it didn't have much depth. It seems like the kind of light romance novel I try to avoid, disguised as a "suspense"novel. The characters are unlikable and the storyline is pretty thin. Would not recommend unless you are looking for something quick and simple, not necessarily thought-provoking.
SamMajors More than 1 year ago
This fast paced page turner offers many surprises as the story is told from two perspectives. It's almost impossible to put down so be prepared to read it in one or two sittings.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Couldn't put the book down! So many great elements --- interesting characters, good plot , excellent writing . The author's own loss of a child is an undercurrent of compassion for his characters.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I did not like this book at all. I think it was a waste of time and only finished it because it was for my book club. The two main characters were unlikeable and a good majority of the book was told from the perspective of an unreliable narrator. It was boring and repetitive.
ClayBob10 More than 1 year ago
Just get past the first part of the book - that's my advice.  You may want to stop reading, but don't.   The story becomes much more thoughtful and the writing becomes more elegant and nuanced.  There's a reason why the fist part is a but hum-drum.  But it takes off and the writing, the story, the characters, everything changes dramatically.  You'll be rewarded with a richly developed story of loss, grief, and "what might have been."
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was something of a revelation. It had me hooked from the beginning and just when I thought I knew where it was going, the author threw in a major development that I did not see coming. A good character study and commentary on the toll taken by unresolved emotional issues and grief.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Now I was completely blown away! Here I thought Arthur was someone I love to hate but 'WHAM' I got slammed and my first thought of him flew out the window. This author took me on a ride, falling in love, jealousy, vengeful feelings, separation, desire, obsession, status quo, regrets but the twist to this story just caught me by surprise. I had this palpitation of anger slowly building towards Arthur then the twist of the story made my heart grow heavy with pure grieve. Russell's remembers first love, Betsy remembers being a mother, Elizabeth protecting her love of her life, Arthur remembering how he feel in love and the inevitable "regrets." Mind spiraling until you have no control. We exhibit different ways of coping but sometimes we get lost in them and can't find our way back, huh this book exposed that side of the human emotions. I cannot say more because it would only disclose the book's "twist" but what I can say, the author described Arthur's emotional stress so vividly that I could see it on a screen. Strange how everything came full circle between Arthur, his wife Elizabeth and their son Ethan and Betsy and Russell. I wish I could tell you more but I would completely give the story away, that's how wonderfully good this book is. I felt the emotional pain they were going through, the credit goes to the author. I read the acknowledgement at the end of this book and this is when I realized why this book was an emotional piece of excellence. My heart goes out to the author and his family. I learned a long time ago writing does soothe the soul. Our deepest feelings grasp our hands and as fast as you think of it your utmost feelings is in plain view. "A wisp of a thought brought to life." I won this book on Goodreads, First Read Giveaway. Thank you, Darlene Cruz
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Not the best writing but a good story. Predictable.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good read......some surprising twists & turns.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read other reviews and it was on a top list so I gave it a try. Uncomfortable at first, then OK, then over. With no ending!! What a waste of time and money ugh
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Is so fluffy you cant see its legs. "Mrrrrrrrow?"
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Walks in
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is snapes office. Come here to speak with me.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Keeps you in suspense
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I've only started  the excerpt and come across clumsy writing like," They don’t need to speak, for they are both drinking in the moment, the day, the happiness of their boy, and the gift of this experience"   or, " A couple of times they suggest they should keep walking"   PULEEEEZE!