The novel: Frances Godwin’s long career as a high school Latin teacher ends abruptly because of budget cutbacks. She then begins writing her stories — confessions, really — that recount her “torrid” affair with Paul, her Shakespeare professor and eventually her husband, and the surprising turn her life takes after his death. Frances, now on the cusp of old age, has lived her life as a non-believer. But when Frances becomes entangled in her daughter Stella’s relationship with an abusive husband, her actions lead her to a new relationship with God.
The author: Since 1968, Hellenga has taught English literature at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., where he has been Distinguished Writer-in-Residence. He is the author of The Sixteen Pleasures and Snakewoman of Little Egypt. The Confessions of Frances Godwin is his seventh novel.
Opening lines: “At the end of May 2006 — my last Commencement —my students marched across the stage at Galesburg High School. I watched them throw their hats into the air even though Mr. Walters, the principal, had made it perfectly clear that they were not to do so. And afterward we said good-byes. I would miss the students, most of them. I would even miss the obligatory school functions — the faculty meetings, the parent-teacher conferences, the endless round of games and band concerts, and the union meetings (I’d been the steward for five years) — that had been my life after my husband’s death. The students were looking ahead. I was looking back; they were letting go. I was hanging on. But now I had to let go too.”
Review: The St. Louis Post-Dispatch said, “Hellenga creates a teacher you will wish you had studied with, and a character to remember.” The Washington Post wrote, “This is a story of maturity by maturity for maturity, written with subtlety, deep learning, and wisdom.”