Reviews of We Do What We Do in the Dark by Michelle Hart

We Do What We Do in the Dark

A Novel

by Michelle Hart

We Do What We Do in the Dark by Michelle Hart X
We Do What We Do in the Dark by Michelle Hart
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  • First Published:
    May 2022, 224 pages

    Paperback:
    May 2023, 224 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Elisabeth Cook
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About this Book

Book Summary

A novel about a young woman's life-altering affair with a much older, married woman.

Mallory is a freshman in college, reeling from her mother's recent death, when she encounters the woman. She sees her for the first time at the university's gym, immediately entranced. Soon, they meet, drawn by an electric tension and shared past wounds; before long, they begin sleeping together in secret. Self-possessed, successful, brilliant, and aloof—the woman is everything Mallory wants…and wants to be. Desiring not only the woman but also the idea of who she is when they're together, Mallory retreats from the rest of the world, solidifying a sense of aloneness that has both haunted and soothed her since childhood and will continue to do so for years even after the affair ends. As an adult, Mallory must decide whether to stay safely in isolation or step fully into the world, to confront what the woman meant to her and how their relationship shaped her, for better or worse.

Mallory's life is transformed by loss and by love and by discovering who she is while enduring both. In this enthralling debut novel, the complexities of influence, obsession, and admiration reveal how desire and its consequences can alter the trajectory of someone's life.

When Mallory was in college, she had an affair with a woman twice her age. When the woman was seventeen, she herself had had an affair with a man in his forties. Mallory admired the woman so much that, for many years, any similarity between them flattered her.

Mallory had run on the treadmill behind the woman at the university's gym for weeks before they actually met. It was September of her freshman year. Mallory, whose mother had died months before, had become haunted by the prospect of poor health. Also, she was a first-​year student and worried about letting something free, like a gym membership, go to waste.

The school's main gym was in the midst of renovations; a crude, makeshift workout area now occupied one half of the intramural basketball court. This was separated from the other half by a large mesh curtain. The treadmills and weight-​lifting equipment were laid atop a foundation of cardboard flooring so as not to scuff the hardwood underneath....

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!
  1. We Do What We Do in the Dark has distinct sections that take place in different times of Mallory's life. How do these different parts of the book, and the order in which they're presented, inform each other, and what do they tell us about Mallory?
  2. Mallory feels alone and craves connection with the woman, but also clings to her loneliness as a safe place. What accounts for these two opposing forces?
  3. How does the book handle Mallory's sexuality, and the woman's? How do they view their individual queerness or identity?
  4. Mallory both wants the woman and wants to be her. This melding of admiration and desire is extreme in the book, but to a certain extent, is an experience many of us encounter in life. What does it mean to so deeply admire ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The story is somewhat heavy-handed with its persistent symbolism surrounding the concepts of light and dark as representations of openness and secrecy, but fascinating in its dissection of isolation. Mallory's attraction to women isolates her because she doesn't know how to name it. The sense of aimlessness she feels as a first-year college student isolates her because, while no doubt a common phenomenon, it is still not an easily decipherable experience. She goes to the woman looking for answers because the things she wants to know — about death, about queerness, about building a life and an identity and a future — are not accessible in broad daylight...continued

Full Review (649 words)

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(Reviewed by Elisabeth Cook).

Media Reviews

New York Times
Hart's novel does something exceptional that few pieces of fiction have done successfully: She presents the older married professor as not only a complicated figure worthy of desire and suspicion, but makes her a woman too...We Do What We Do in the Dark has flashes of Sally Rooney's Conversations With Friends, or Halle Butler's The New Me. Sometimes it's erotic, sometimes it's devastating. Maybe this is what the new erotic thriller has morphed into in literature...[T]he writing always crackles, written by someone who clearly knows what it's like to desire another woman in ways you just barely understand.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Hart debuts with a transfixing queer coming-of-age novel about a woman's affair with a much older professor...Mallory's intense interiority and self-consciousness will remind readers of Sally Rooney's work, and Hart's prose is delicate and piercing. This is auspicious and breathtaking.

Kirkus Reviews
Not a #MeToo story; instead, something more delicate and strange and, at this point, more interesting.

Author Blurb Meg Wolitzer, author of The Female Persuasion and The Interestings
Michelle Hart's first novel is a haunting study of solitude and connection, moving and memorable.

Author Blurb Melissa Febos, author of Girlhood
It is a rare debut that exhibits the authority of voice and vision that Michelle Hart gives us in We Do What We Do In The Dark..

Author Blurb Nicole Dennis-Benn, author of Patsy and Here Comes the Sun
Seductive and lyrical with poetic detail, this is an unforgettable account of a forbidden romance made extraordinary by Hart's precision and lyrical touch. A compulsive read that satisfies and haunts.

Author Blurb Torrey Peters, author of Detransition, Baby
A beautiful book so filled with sharp longing and perfectly phrased vulnerability that I read it in a reverent hush.

Reader Reviews

Anonymous

Very good
The themes and suspense are great!
Cur1ousReader

Warning
This book contains both sex and LGTBQ. I would not recommend it for younger readers.

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Beyond the Book

The House of the Seven Gables

Exterior of a large dark-colored house with snowIn We Do What We Do in the Dark by Michelle Hart, the main character, Mallory, visits the House of the Seven Gables, a historic landmark in the town of Salem, Massachusetts that inspired a novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne. She does so following a conversation with a character known only as "the woman," with whom she had an affair years earlier, when she was a college student and the woman was married. Mallory mentions Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, a book she has gained a newfound fondness for since her affair with the woman, due to its theme of adultery; the woman recommends that Mallory read The House of the Seven Gables, and mentions that the actual house is located in Salem, where the two of them are staying at the time.

The House of ...

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