Excerpt from The Lake of Dead Languages by Carol Goodman, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Lake of Dead Languages

By Carol Goodman

The Lake of Dead Languages
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  • Hardcover: Jan 2002,
    390 pages.
    Paperback: Jan 2003,
    413 pages.

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Now the school uses paper napkins and the teachers serve themselves from a buffet. Tuna fish salad and packaged bread. Carrot sticks and hard-boiled eggs. What hasn't changed, though, is the mandatory attendance for all faculty. It was a tenet of India Crevecoeur, Heart Lake's founder, that the teaching staff be a community. It is an admirable goal, but on days like today I'd give much to be able to take my sandwich out to a rock by the lake with no one but Ovid for company. As I enter the room I give India's image in the family portrait a resentful look, which she, snug in the bosom of her large family, disdainfully returns.

The only empty seat is next to Myra Todd. I take out a stack of quizzes to grade and hope they will keep her from commenting on third period's early dismissal. Half the teachers at the long table have a similar stack of paper-clipped pages at which they peck with their red pens in between bites of tuna fish. When I take out mine, though, I see I still have the journal page with my handwriting on the top of the stack. I hurriedly fold it and stick it into the pocket of my plaid wool skirt just as Myra leans across me for the salt shaker. I have to remind myself that she'd have no reason to think anything of those enigmatic words even if she did see them. Unless she's the one who found my old journal.

I steal a glance at her to see if she's paying undue attention to my stack of papers, but she is placidly chewing her sandwich and staring into the middle distance. Under the smell of tuna fish and stale coffee I catch her distinctive smell--a whiff of mildew as if she were one of her own science experiments left too long in the supply closet over Christmas break. I've always wondered what peculiar health condition or faulty laundry procedure is the cause of this odor, but it's hardly the kind of thing you could ask a person as prim and proper as Myra. I try to imagine what she would do if she came upon my old journal, and I am pretty sure she'd take it straight to the dean.

I try to imagine what Dean Buehl would make of my old journal. Celeste Buehl was the science teacher when I went to Heart Lake. She was always kind to me when I was her student--and she was more than kind when she gave me this job--but I don't think that kindness would survive a reading of my senior-year journal.

When she comes in today I notice how much she's changed in the twenty years since she was my teacher. I remember her as slim and athletic, leading nature hikes through the woods and skating on the lake in winter. Now her broad shoulders are rounded and her short, cropped hair, once dark and springy, looks lifeless and dull. Myra Todd picks the moment of the dean's entrance to mention third period's early dismissal.

"Jane," she says loudly, "your third-period class disturbed my senior lab this morning. We were at a very delicate stage of dissection. Mallory Martin's hand slipped and she nicked her lab partner with a scalpel."

I know Mallory Martin by reputation. My girls call her Maleficent. I somehow doubt the incident with the scalpel was an accident.

"I'm sorry, Myra, I'll tell them to be quieter. They get so keyed up for these exams."

"The thing to do is give them extra problems when they finish their tests. That way they won't be so anxious to finish early." Simon Ross, the math teacher, volunteers this pedagogical advice and resumes scoring a pile of quizzes with a thick red marker. The tips of his fingers are stained red with the marker, and I notice the color has bled onto his sandwich.

"I let the girls write in their journals," Gwendoline Marsh offers in a small voice. "It helps them to have an outlet and it's part of their grade."

"And just how do you grade these journals?" asks Meryl North, the history teacher who already seemed as ancient as her subject when I was a student here. "Do you read their private thoughts?"

Excerpted from The Lake of Dead Languages by Carol Goodman Copyright 2002 by Carol Goodman. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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