Reviews of The English Teacher by Lily King

The English Teacher

by Lily King

The English Teacher by Lily King X
The English Teacher by Lily King
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2005, 256 pages

    Paperback:
    Jun 2006, 256 pages

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Book Summary

A passionate tale of a mother and son's vital bond and a provocative look at our notions of intimacy, honesty, loyalty, family, and the real meaning of home.

By the author of the highly acclaimed, award-winning debut, The Pleasing Hour, a riveting portrait of a haunted single mother and her teenage son

Unanimously praised for her first novel, The Pleasing Hour, which was called "splendid . . . powerful . . . [and] so assured it's hard to believe the book itself is her debut" by The New York Times Book Review, Lily King has written a thrilling successor. In The English Teacher, King uses her superb craftsmanship, effortlessly suspenseful pacing, and tenderly observed insight into marriage, motherhood, and family to expertly limn the life of an independent single mother and her fifteen-year-old son, who is on a circuitous path toward a truth she has long concealed from him.

Fifteen years ago Vida Avery arrived alone and pregnant at elite Fayer Academy. She has since become a fixture and one of the best English teachers Fayer has ever had. By living on campus, on an island off the New England coast, Vida has cocooned herself and her son, Peter, from the outside world and from an inside secret. For years she has lived largely through the books she teaches, but when she accepts the impulsive marriage proposal of ardent widower Tom Belou, the prescribed life Vida has constructed is swiftly dismantled.

Peter, however, welcomes the changes. Excited to move off campus, eager to have siblings at last, Peter anticipates a regular life with a "normal" family. But the Belou children are still grieving, and the memory of their recently dead mother exerts a powerful hold on the house. As Vida begins teaching her signature book, Tess of the D'Urbervilles, a nineteenth-century tale of an ostracized woman and social injustice, its themes begin to echo eerily in her own life and Peter sees that the mother he perceived as indomitable is collapsing and it is up to him to help.

The English Teacher
is a passionate tale of a mother and son's vital bond and a provocative look at our notions of intimacy, honesty, loyalty, family, and the real meaning of home. A triumphant and masterful follow-up to her award-winning debut, The English Teacher confirms Lily King as one of the most accomplished and vibrant young voices of today.

October, 1979

THAT SHE HAD NOT KILLED HIM IN HER SLEEP WAS STILL THE GREAT RELIEF of every morning.

Not that she actually believed he was dead when he slept in on a Saturday. It was merely a leftover ritual, the weak ghost of an old fear from years ago when she awoke and waited, barely breathing, as close to prayer as she had ever got in her life, for a single sound of him: a little sigh, or the scrape of his feetie pajamas across the floor. He'd scuffle into her room still warm and puffy and half asleep, and the piercing relief of him collided with the horror of possessing such a fear and the dread of its return the next morning.

Now here he was at quarter of eleven, finally, his boots whacking the stairs, missing steps, his shirt unbuttoned but with an undershirt beneath (she didn't know what grew on his chest now and didn't want to). He shook out half a box of cereal and ate it in a few loud smacks at the other end of the table. Still, what sweetness ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. At the heart of the novel is the quest of Vida to find truth through fiction. The epigraph for The English Teacher, "Life is beginning. I now break into my hoard of life," is from Virginia Woolf. How would you describe Vida as an English teacher? What are her strengths? What are her dramatic limitations? What distinguishes an English teacher from other teachers? Does living in the world of books hamper Vida, or does it expand her experience? Do the students of an imaginative English teacher—and readers of good books—suspend disbelief in order to grow or live on multiple levels?
  2. Why does Vida hate teaching Tess of the D'Urbervilles? Why is she afraid ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. A marriage of single parents is more often the stuff of sitcoms than of serious novels, but King uses it to great effect in this intense character study. . . . King renders Vida's seething withholding in a free, direct style that captures everything . . . She's also excellent on the children's reactions to each other as the households come together and then separate, dramatically and perhaps permanently.

School Library Journal - Reba Leiding,
The author expertly weaves together diverse themes: literary allusions and the exhilaration and manipulations of teaching, along with a sympathetic view of teenage insecurities and the tensions of taking on the role of stepmother. All this is delivered in poetic yet streamlined prose. Highly recommended.

Booklist - Deborah Donovan
King writes with subtle clarity, displaying an intuitive understanding of the vulnerable psyches of teenagers, and with pinpoint perception of her characters' inner lives.

Kirkus Reviews
Tom is too good to be true, and Vida too unpleasant to care about. Still, King beautifully delineates the grieving children in all their confused steps toward recovery.

Reader Reviews

Romasha

Please Stop Laughing At Me
This book in my opinion was quite extraordinary in many ways. It is a true story and in fact the author of the book experienced the many horrifying experiences that she writes about in this book. Written by Jodee Blanco this book gives one a clear ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Lily King studied at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Syracuse University, where she won the Raymond Carver Prize for fiction. A MacDowell Colony fellow, her stories have appeared in Ploughshares and Glimmer Train. Her first novel, The Pleasing Hour, was a Book Sense selection, a New York Times Notable Book, and winner of the Barnes & Noble Discover Award. King is the recipient of a 2000 Whiting Writers' Award. She lives with her family in Maine.

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