Gail Godwin. Unfinished Desires. New York: Random House, 2009.

One of the blessings of old age is that memories of one’s teenage years fade.  Not so for Suzanne Ravenel.  Mother Ravenel had been a student, teacher, and headmistress of Mount St. Gabriel’s School in the fictitious Mountain City, North Carolina.  Now Mount St. Gabriel’s has closed, and some of the old girls persuade Mother Ravenel that her memories have value not just as a record of her life but also that of the school.

Mount St. Gabriel’s was a respected institution, serving day and boarding students from a range of families, including some of the area’s best.  On the surface, it was a place of good manner and superior education, but as with any school, the young people there had their insecurities, longings, jealousies, and capacity for pettiness and cruelty.  As Mother Ravenel dictates her memoirs, she is forced to consider one particularly unhappy year in the early 1950s.  Although the drama and toxicity of that year have haunted Mother Ravenel, as the story unfolds it becomes clear that some of the turmoil of  that year had its origin in Mother Ravenel’s own teenage years when she was a classmate of the mothers and aunts of some of the troublesome girls.

Normally multi-generational sagas focus on a family, but Unfinished Desires shows that the form works well to tell the story of schools girls whose youthful actions haunt the women they become.

Gail Godwin grew up in Asheville, where she attended school at St. Genevieve’s of the Pines.  The school is thought to be the model for Mount St. Gabriel’s.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

1 Comment

Filed under 2000-2009, 2009, Buncombe, Godwin, Gail, Mountains, Novels Set in Fictional Places

One Response to Gail Godwin. Unfinished Desires. New York: Random House, 2009.

  1. Roberta Engleman

    Writing as someone who was attending St. Joan of Arc (the school “across the river,” as Gail Godwin describes it) during Mt. Saint Gabriel’s toxic year–been there, knew those places. I recommend it for anybody who grew up in Asheville/went to Catholic school/ever belonged to a gaggle of schoolgirls.

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