A passionate, provocative story of complex family bonds and the search for identity set within the ivy-covered walls of a New England boarding school
When Charlie Garrett arrives as a young teacher at the shabby-yet-genteel Abbott School, he finds a world steeped in privilege and tradition. Fresh out of college and barely older than the students he teaches, Charlie longs to leave his complicated southern childhood behind and find his place in the rarefied world of Abbottsford. Before long he is drawn to May Bankhead, the daughter of the legendary school chaplain; but when he discovers he cannot be with her, he forces himself to break her heart, and she leaves Abbott—he believes forever. He hunkers down in his house in the foothills of Massachusetts, thinking his sacrifice has contained the damage and controlled their fates.
But nearly a decade later, his peace is shattered when his golden-boy half brother, Nick, comes to Abbott to teach—and May returns as a teacher as well. Students and teachers alike are drawn by Nick’s magnetism, and even May falls under his spell. When Charlie pushes his brother and his first love together, with what he believes are the best of intentions, a love triangle ensues that is haunted by desire, regret, and a long-buried mystery.
With wisdom and emotional generosity, LeCraw takes us through a year that transforms both the teachers and students of Abbott forever. Page-turning, lyrical, and ambitious, The Half Brother is a powerful examination of family, loyalty, and love.
In LeCraw's wildly melodramatic sophomore novel (after The Swimming Pool), Charlie Garrett is a Southern boy who graduates from Harvard and finds a teaching position at the Abbott School in north-central Massachusetts. There, he meets Preston Bankhead, the school's commanding chaplain, and his 12-year-old daughter, May, who is a student. Over the course of the next several years, May grows up and she and Charlie fall in love. But when May's father is diagnosed with cancer, Charlie abruptly breaks things off. Ten years later, Charlie is still teaching at Abbott with May and his younger half-brother, Nicky. Charlie tries to bring Nicky and May together, but is unprepared for the consequences that follow. Then Charlie and Nicky's widowed mother arrives at the school for Christmas. She winds up in the hospital, setting the stage for a series of events that will throw the past into clear relief. LeCraw has fashioned a contemporary novel that feels positively Victorian with its overuse of coincidence and deathbed confessions. The story takes place over the course of two decades, but Charlie, who narrates, never seems to age mentally, making it difficult for readers to get a fix on where they are in the story. Add a school scandal to the mix and this overstuffed, awkwardly plotted novel completely strains belief.