Flora Dempsey is the headstrong and quick-witted only child of Lewis Dempsey, a beloved former college president and famous literary critic in the league of Harold Bloom. At the news of her father’s death, Flora quits her big-city magazine job and returns to Darwin, the quaint New England town where she grew up, to retreat into the house he has left her, filled as it is with reminders of him. Even weightier is her appointment as her father’s literary executor. It seems he was secretly writing poems at the end of his life—love poems to a girlfriend Flora didn’t know he had.
Flora soon discovers that this woman has her own claims on Lewis’s poetry and his memory, and in the righteousness of her loss and bafflement at her father’s secrets—his life so richly separate from her own in ways she never guessed—Flora is highly suspicious of her. Meanwhile, Flora is besieged by well-wishers and literary bloggers alike as she tries to figure out how to navigate it all: the fate of the poems, the girlfriend who wants a place in her life, her memories of her parents’ divorce, and her own uncertain future.
I really wanted to like this book more than I ultimately did. The writing was intelligent and nuanced, and the storyline, centered as it was around books and reading, was a strong draw. Unfortunately, I found a lot of promise that was never really fulfilled, making for a frustrating read in the end. I never felt emotionally invested in the characters or their lives; for a book with so few personalities, none of them were particularly well-developed except for Flora, and I found her hard to like. The glimpses of Flora's childhood were the most emotionally compelling portion of the narrative, and came too infrequently for my taste.
In the end, I found myself unable to make a connection to these characters. Though the writing was strong, the sense of detachment made it possible to walk away from the book without a qualm to do chores or run errands. When I came to the end, I was neither glad to be done nor sad to be finished- I didn't have a viceral enough reaction to the book to care one way or the other.