A Massachusetts college instructor continues to grapple with a complicated academic life and a messy marriage in this novel.
This final installment of Senturia’s Martin Quint trilogy finds the professor facing exhausting years at Bottlesworth College after a scandal that forced him to leave Cambridge Technology Institute. Then there is his deteriorating marriage to his wife, Jenny, who, despite her indiscretion with a work subordinate, still feels as “stuck” as she did when their problems began in the author’s series debut, One Man’s Purpose(2015). In an effort to reconnect, the couple have embarked on marriage counseling sessions, which are effectively dispersed throughout the book. As Martin and Jenny work on repairing their marriage, healing distrust, and exploring past triggers, critical outside events complicate things further. When Andrew, Martin’s son from his first marriage, tells him that his soccer buddy, new Black student Lavelle Walton, is being bullied by aggressive, rich White kid Lester Worthington, the professor becomes concerned the harassment is racially motivated. After discovering that Lester is the son of a Maine state government official, Martin and Andrew learn that things are continuing to escalate. A group of students targeting Lavelle and organized by Lester becomes incensed by the athlete’s presence in school and on the soccer field and leaves a threatening noose on his dorm room doorknob. Meanwhile, in an effort to reclaim his lost childhood from a mother who abandoned him, Martin sets out to find her in a journey that becomes surprisingly suspenseful and emotionally moving. Adding texture to the narrative is Martin’s passionate advocacy for the modernization and advancement of educational philosophies, including the practice of vocal participation and peer-to-peer learning curriculums in the tech classroom. Senturia, a veteran engineering professor, sets his novel in pre–Covid-19 academia where classrooms are still in-person. The exchanges between instructors and students are realistically portrayed, avoiding what the author calls in his introduction “Zoom fatigue.” While Martin’s dialogue periodically gets muddled in the jargon of a seasoned engineering academic eager for new and adventurous avenues of improved learning, he does impart objectives that will make sense to any reader. For example, he encourages new teaching methodologies, asserting that “conversation, two-way conversation, as opposed to just reading, engages one’s entire cognitive structure and opens it up to new ideas in a remarkable way.” Branching outward, the tale also explores the nuances of infidelity and a marriage’s recovery, race-baiting among adolescents, the unique teacher-student dynamic, and the enduring psychological effects of child abandonment on an adult. As several story arcs coalesce in the final third, the volume does begin to sag beneath the weight of the pivotal subject matter it addresses. While Senturia effectively touches on several areas of the modern human condition, readers will naturally gravitate back to the core story of Martin and Jenny rebuilding their relationship with the aid of a therapist. The durability of a bruised marriage navigating the emotional fallout of betrayal is the true beating heart of the author’s engrossing trilogy. Though Senturia leaves things on a positive, upbeat note, readers will yearn for more solid conclusions about the fate of this couple on the road to marital recovery.
An immensely satisfying trilogy finale examining marriage, forgiveness, race, youth, and university life.
Building and rebuilding are at the heart of the thoughtful final novel in Senturia’s Martin Quint trilogy, which finds its protagonist still facing challenges both in his private and work life. Martin labors on establishing a new school at Bottlesworth college while satisfying the demands of his energizing yet challenging benefactor as well as the bureaucracy of his college, and on assessing a teaching method. At same time, he and his wife Jenny try to mend their marriage and broken trust. Through therapy, they realize how much the past afflicts their relationship, and strive to heal it. Despite their differences, the couple must pull together in order to deal with unexpected crises–including a shocking racial incident in the boarding school of Andrew, Martin's son from a previous relationship, that targets his best friend Lavelle, one of the few Black students at the school.
MIT professor Senturia doesn't just share a glimpse into the backstage of the academic world he knows so well, as through Martin and the kids he delves into urgent educational questions–from treatment of racial incidents in school to what would make a new program truly cutting edge. Such serious consideration of the realities of education is rare in contemporary fiction, even novels about academia, and his keen understanding of the complexities shine through, though at times narrative momentum is diminished by Senturia’s interest in technical matters.
Senturia also focuses on exploration of relationships, especially the reconstruction of damaged ones, observing through Martin: “This is what his entire career in science had led him to believe, that there were discoverable truths, objective truths that could be analyzed, verified. But life doesn’t offer those kinds of truths.” Such wisdom—and a welcome sense of humanity and hopefulness—distinguishes the novel, though at times a lack of nuance weighs on the story. The happy yet very open ending is satisfying, though it will leave fans of serious contemporary fiction eager for more.
Takeaway: In this striking, hopeful novel, a professor endeavors to build a new program– and rebuild his damaged marriage.
Great for fans of: John Williams’s Stoner, Jane Smiley’s Moo.
Production grades Cover: B Design and typography: B Illustrations: N/A Editing: C Marketing copy: B