Emily Fox Gordon established her career as a memoirist for "Mockingbird Years: A Life In and Out of Therapy," and "Are You Happy?: A Childhood Remembered." Her first novel, "It Will Come to Me," is an entertaining comedy of manners set on the campus of Lola Dees, a private university in Spangler, Texas.
The mythical Spangler is a populous, sprawling city near the coast. Susceptible to hurricanes, it sounds suspiciously like Houston. In Spangler, Ben Blau, a 60-year-old professor, teaches philosophy and seems to stay young by working with young people. He has broad shoulders, a trim waist and if he were "standing in shadow, he could almost pass for a graduate student."
His wife, Ruth, who at 56 looks every bit of it, is dissatisfied with her life. She was once a successful writer, but now she is a "faculty brat and faculty wife (or spouse as the euphemism had it)." Both of their lives are stagnant. She drinks too much when she has the chance, especially at college ceremonies, meetings and parties. Ben holds a chairmanship he doesn't want, but drinks sparingly.
You would think that both of them would do a lot of drinking because their son, Isaac, is a failure and somewhat of an embarrassment. Isaac not only lacks an advanced degree, he didn't even finish college and is living on the streets.
Ben and Ruth love Isaac, of course, and they give money to a therapist to treat their prodigal son and to dole out money to him. Because Isaac is not ready to see his parents, the therapist is their go-between. He arranges reunions, but they fall through.
Back at Lola Dees, a new staff member Ricia Spottiswoode arrives with her husband, Charles John. Ricia is a writer of some reputation, and her arrival at the college coupled with Charles' praise of Ruth's old books, eventually inspires Ruth to try to revive her writing career.
Early in the novel, a real storm is brewing, and the impending hurricane, something of a blackly comic deus ex machina, moves the action along and propels the characters out of their stagnant lives.
Ben, Ruth and Isaac could easily have turned out flat and stereotypical. But Gordon writes about them with enough grace and humor to break them out of their clichéd archetypes and, with a few clever plot twists and a couple of eccentric minor characters, she creates a charming story of reunion.
Joseph Peschel is a freelance writer and critic in South Dakota.