But the alternative is to let your talent lie fallow and rot.
Anna Brisker is a graduate student at Collegiate University trapped under the heavy weight of her incomplete dissertation that is “very nearly finished”, lacking enthusiasm, feeling uninspired writing about the ” intellectual history of inspiration”. Inspiration, in her mind, isn’t simply floating around like blessed golden confetti thrown by some benevolent being, landing on the chosen. Great works of art and literature take blood, sweat, tears, and talent, of course. She would know, as her own drive has fled. A far cry from the brilliant future everything in her youth promised, a young girl who was valedictorian at her high school and burned as bright at an elite college. How did she get here, feckless and without either the self-control or the divine touch necessary to continue blazing along on her trail of accomplishments. Most says she’d rather stuff a pop tart in her mouth. Her advisor is exasperated by her lack of progress thinking she has lost her focus, her parents think she is lazy, spending her days wandering aimlessly doing nothing to establish herself , they may be right.
Then she meets Helen Langley, niece of Frederick Langley, who for Anna was the introduction to literary culture during her middle school years. A wildly talented writer who burned bright on the scene with his own following, wowing people, producing a book every so many years only to suddenly cease publishing. Perplexed that a man who was said to have ‘found writing easy’ could just one day decide to cease all creativity and live his life closed off, makes what Helen has to say something to put her faith in. Anna she is giddy again with the possibility that something big could come out of this. As she becomes closer to Helen, she discovers that the talented author did not stop writing. In fact, there are notebooks he penned at Collegiate’s Elston Library, hidden. This is exactly the spark of hope Anna needs to feed her passion once again. Helen is the way Anna can get to know Freddy, she is her stroke of luck! Who knew that a chance encounter, a small debt at the grocery store could turn her life around?
Though an antiquarian, Helen isn’t as ‘intellectual’ as Anna but she knows full well the worth of her uncles notebooks. With a promise to her uncle long ago she had sworn to be the keeper of his work but there was a tangle, the school has them, but Helen approves who gets to see them. So begins the plan. Helen is far more bohemian than Anna who lives with means beyond your average struggling student. Everything about Helen is vibrant and full, overly generous maybe messy and a little too free spirited but at least there is no shame in her ‘degeneracy’. Anna intends to help her new friend. So maybe Helen is a little wayward and her talent is in forgery, she does what she must for her survival so what, she grabs life by the throat and certainly doesn’t judge Anna for caving to her own pleasures. More than ones intellectual weight, social status, nor the heft of promise in one’s future this is a story about how we chase the “then what” of life. I sort of felt like saying, what the hell does it matter in the end? Any of it. One woman has family money but can’t seem to get her hands on the life she has envisioned for herself, another wants her own inheritance and comfort and both think Freddy is the means to their end. The two meet in the middle and if things take a bit of a criminal turn, so be it. What will it mean for Anna, and will her dissertation ever get finished?
Clever. Juliet Lapidos points out the snobbery of academia and the mistakes people make by putting all their faith in philosophy too. Talent as accidental, or indiscriminate blessing/curse vs talent as choice, work. Maybe it is just all BS, according to Anna anyway.
Publication date: January 22, 2019
Little, Brown and Company