Renowned classics professor Roberta Greaves finds her perfect life shattered by her husband’s suicide and the huge gambling debts he has left behind. Grief-stricken and angry, Roberta must find a way to pay those debts. Remembering a particularly racy story from Ovid’s Metamorphoses , she decides to write an erotic novel, using a penname because she is worried that her career will suffer if her real identity is discovered. Drama critic John Schubert suspects the truth. Eager to bring Roberta down in revenge for some comments she once made, he finds an opportunity when he spots her with her publisher, who is well-known for the erotic literature he publishes. Meantime, Roberta hears some dirt about Schubert from the street kids with whom she does poetry workshops at a drop-in centre. Roberta’s life is now a mess of potential blackmail and intrigue. What’s more, she learns an unpleasant truth about her “Daddy,” a doctor whose memory she has always revered. Despite her life having been derailed by sudden catastrophe, Roberta is able to face her bruised world and move forward as a better human being.
“Ann Birch has the talent, tenacity and rich experience base that are absolutely necessary to a fiction writer. Her insights hit the target and her sharp wit is evident on every page.”
—Gail Anderson-Dargatz, author of Turtle Valley
“In her recent book, Ann Birch ushers you into the cultural landscape of Toronto’s academic world. Roberta Greaves, her two sons and her husband, James, lead reputable and satisfied lives until James dies in suspicious circumstances. Then, the nasty secret of his gambling addiction surfaces. Now Roberta needs to cope, not only with her grief and anger, but with financial difficulties she’s never encountered.
She’s a fellow at the University, lacking the street smarts to resolve the predicament, but she uses her expertise as a scholar and transforms it into a strength. Sadly, the solution threatens her job, her good name and all of her relationships.
Roberta’s volunteer work with a group of street kids adds edge and intrigue to the narrative. One of my favourite moments happens at a poetry slam Roberta has helped the kids to set up. One girl is paralyzed by stage fright. Roberta muses, “Lori Lyn, Hester’s pal who performs fellatio on strange men in parking lots. There are so many kinds of courage.”
Ann Birch explores her characters with sage originality. Roberta Greaves is a compelling character, distinctive, kind, captivating and human.
This is a story about the unfortunate decisions a person might make in the face of mishap. It explores secrets and how they take on a destructive trajectory. But most of all it awakens us to the possibility that with kindness, compassion and the determination to do right we can all be saved from our blunders.”
—Laurel Mae Hislop, author of Chitchat