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Unfinished Desires

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Unfinished Desires

A Novel
BONUS: This edition contains an Unfinished Desires discussion guide. From Gail Godwin, three-time National Book Award finalist and acclaimed New York Times bestselling author of Evensong and The...
BONUS: This edition contains an Unfinished Desires discussion guide. From Gail Godwin, three-time National Book Award finalist and acclaimed New York Times bestselling author of Evensong and The...
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  • BONUS: This edition contains an Unfinished Desires discussion guide.

    From Gail Godwin, three-time National Book Award finalist and acclaimed New York Times bestselling author of Evensong and The Finishing School, comes a sweeping new novel of friendship, loyalty, rivalries, redemption, and memory.

    It is the fall of 1951 at Mount St. Gabriel's, an all-girls school tucked away in the mountains of North Carolina. Tildy Stratton, the undisputed queen bee of her class, befriends Chloe Starnes, a new student recently orphaned by the untimely and mysterious death of her mother. Their friendship fills a void for both girls but also sets in motion a chain of events that will profoundly affect the course of many lives, including the girls' young teacher and the school's matriarch, Mother Suzanne Ravenel.

    Fifty years on, the headmistress relives one pivotal night, trying to reconcile past and present, reaching back even further to her own senior year at the school, where the roots of a tragedy are buried.

    In Unfinished Desires, a beloved author delivers a gorgeous new novel in which thwarted desires are passed on for generations--and captures the rare moment when a soul breaks free.

  • Chapter One Tour of the Grounds

    Third Saturday in August 1951
    Mount St. Gabriel's
    Mountain City, North Carolina

    "When you've done as much girl-watching as I have, Mother Malloy, you can see even as they're coming up through the lower grades how each class reveals itself as an organism in its own right. You're not too tired for a bit of a ramble, I hope."

    "Not at all, Mother Ravenel. I've only been sitting on trains for two days."

    "Good, in that case"--the headmistress, as quick of step as she was in speech, veered suddenly off the gravel walk and, snatching up her ankle-length skirts, plunged down a woodland path--"we'll take a turn around the new athletic field and then go up to the grotto and sit with the Red Nun awhile and have a little prayer to Our Lady in front of our Della Robbia."

    "Who is the Red Nun?"

    Without slowing her pace, the headmistress turned back to reward the new young teacher with an appreciative smile.

    "You know, I often still catch myself thinking of her as a 'who.' After all these years! The shortest way to put it is, she's our mascot. If you can rightly call a six-foot-high ton of red marble a mascot. She's been unfinished since the middle of the First World War. It's quite a story, and you know what? I'm going to save it until we're at the grotto. There are so many things I want to point out to you first. Now, where was I?"

    "You were saying about--organisms?"

    "Oh, yes. A class is never just a collection of individual girls, though it is certainly that, too, when you're considering one girl at a time. But a class as a whole develops a group consciousness. It's an organic unit, with its own special properties. While we're having our walk, I will tell you a little about your ninth-grade girls, the upcoming freshman class. They are a challenging group, those girls. They will require control."

    "As a--an organism, you mean? Or--some ones in particular?"

    "Both, Mother Malloy."

    In the presence of the headmistress, Mother Malloy, who was by habit cool and exact in speech, found herself stumbling and blurting. From my responses so far, she thought, this voluble, assured woman must be wondering how I am going to take charge of any class, not to mention a "challenging" one that requires "control." Mother Malloy was vexed by the clumsiness that had come over her even as she had been descending the steps of the train, taking caution with her long skirts, thanking the conductor who steadied her by the elbow, when a nun wearing aviator's sunglasses shot forward to claim her. Mother Ravenel was a vigorously handsome woman of medium height, with a high-colored face and fine white teeth. Snappy phrases, bathed in southern drawl, assailed the young nun from Boston. Her hand was clapped firmly between Mother Ravenel's immaculately gloved ones and she was mortified that she had not remembered to put on her own gloves.

    There was worse to come. Mother Ravenel introduced her uniformed Negro driver and a lighter-skinned young man: "This is Jovan--we call him our Angel of Transportation--and this is his grandson Mark, who will be going off to college next year."

    Mother Malloy extended her hand first to gray-haired Jovan, who took it after the merest hesitation. Though sensing she had done something outside of protocol, she had no choice but to repeat the gesture to young Mark, who, after a quick glance at his grandfather, shook her hand and bolted away to see to her trunk. While the two men loaded it into the back of the wood-paneled station wagon bearing the Mount St. Gabriel's crest (the archangel with upturned palms floating protectively...

About the Author-
  • Gail Godwin is a three-time National Book Award finalist and the bestselling author of twelve critically acclaimed novels, including A Mother and Two Daughters, Violet Clay, Father Melancholy's Daughter, Evensong, The Good Husband, and Evenings at Five. She is also the author of The Making of a Writer: Journals, 1961--1963, the first of two volumes, edited by Rob Neufeld. She has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, National Endowment for the Arts grants for both fiction and libretto writing, and the Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She has written libretti for ten musical works with the composer Robert Starer. She lives in Woodstock, New York.

  • Boston Globe

    "A large, roomy story of love, loss, fidelity, secrets, rivalry and faith in the lives of a charming, flawed troupe of characters.... Provocative and rewarding."

  • Denver Post "This rich world...draws and holds the reader from the first to the final pages of the work. "
  • San Francisco Chronicle "Tender but clear-eyed ...Godwin's South has always been a place where charm and good manners can barely conceal the emotional drama pulsing beneath the surface...Recalls the fraught family bonds of Godwin's best novels..."
  • New York Times Book Review "Godwin's reserved yet powerful new novel is set in a boarding school in the mountains of North Carolina...Though it's a beautiful well-intentioned institution, the school is anything but serene...."
  • Bookpage "If you plan on reading just one great novel in 2010, this might be it... a big old-fashioned book about jealousy and passion at a Catholic girl's school, written with Gail Godwin's trademark depth and humor...."
  • Christian Science Monitor "Godwin's writing is ... marvelous, engaging, clever."
  • Publishers Weekly "Poignant and transporting...convincing, satisfying."
  • Asheville Citizen-Times "Intoxicating... Godwin's latest novel charms."
  • Dallas Morning News "Masterly."
  • Kirkus Reviews starred review, "A strong story populated by a host of memorable characters--smart, satisfying fiction, one of the author's best in years."
  • Bookpage "If you plan on reading just one great novel in 2010, this might be it. Unfinished Desires is a big old-fashioned book about jealousy and passion at a Catholic girl's school, written with best-selling author Gail Godwin's trademark depth and humor ... Godwin's 13th novel is filled with penetrating observations on women's friendships, family and faith ... The wise, human story she tells reaches beyond the boundaries of region and religion, satisfying any reader looking for a good story."
  • Good Housekeeping "What better setting for exploring female bonds than a Southern Catholic girls' school where epic feuds and forgiveness pass through generations? Godwin's take issmart and intriguing."
  • O: The Oprah Magazine "Ten Titles to Watch For: This seasoned author revisits familiar territory. Fascinating, always."
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Unfinished Desires
Unfinished Desires
A Novel
Gail Godwin
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A Novel
Gail Godwin
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