A teacher at a New England prep school ignites a gender war — with deadly consequences — in this dark and provocative novel by the bestselling author of ‘The Passenger.’
To say this is an unusual story is being straightforward about the storyline and very much in this day and age, not your average college book. The best way to get into this novel is to jump straight in. Our heroine, Alex Witt, is the new Creative Writing teacher at Stonebridge Academy, a New England prep school. A very intelligent and institutional woman, from the very beginning, you are made aware of some of her background secrets. Her father is a writer and womanizer to boot, now divorced from her mother who has the particular mindset of male two-timers – “What did I do?” It turns out that her father can’t really write and Alex has to fill in the gaps.
There is a lot of humor in the dialogue between Greg, the school principal, and Alex. She has an unusual way of summing up the intellect of her students by asking them real questions:
1: Who do you love?
2: What do you hate?
3: If you could live inside a book, which book would it be?
4: What do you want?
5: Who are you?
The answers are anonymous of course but give her an insight into the mids of her students. Author Lisa Lutz uses a method for telling her story by utilizing different voices including her own, our protagonist Alex Witt, Mr. Ford, the teacher who she replaced and three students, Gemma Russo, Norman Crowley, and Jonah Wagman. Through the eyes and voices of these assorted individuals, we see an underbelly to the school that is sick and twisted and it’s the old “Boys will be boys” mentality that has allowed the women of this institution to be used and abused. Making them unsuspecting participants of a competition that is based on how good they are at administering oral sex, each woman is graded on her skills by the men, who think it’s great fun and make dirt out of relationships the girls thought were genuine. I must confess, I was not surprised at the content of this book, however, Lisa Lutz has told a remarkable story and for all its rough sexual content, it is presented very well.
When the girls eventually find out the contest, it leads to all-out war and I wouldn’t want to be in the line of fire when these girls get going, revenge is sweet, so they say! I was not impressed by the amount of retribution exacted by the girls, I thought it went overboard in parts but I had to ask myself the question, “If you were in a relationship with a boy and thought it was real, only to find out every kiss, touch, and intimate act between the two of you was photographed for all the other boys to see and you were being graded, how would you feel?” Well, when you put it that way…..
There were other subplots throughout the story, like the teachers’ view of their charges and vice versa, and some of it was very funny and the dialogue was very impressive. All in all, ‘The Swallows’ is an unusual story to critique but I have no hesitation in giving it 5 stars. It is well-written, constructed with style and considering the subject matter, I have to admit, the lady has style!
Available in bookstores August 13th