Review: A boarding school whodunit fueled by feminist rage
“I Have Some Questions for You,” by Rebecca Makkai (Viking)
Take a pinch of “Prep,” the boarding school drama by Curtis Sittenfeld. Add a dollop of “My Dark Vanessa,” Kate Elizabeth Russell’s story about a teenage girl’s sexual relationship with her high school teacher. Season with a smidge of “Serial,” the true crime podcast that went viral. Then finish it off with a juicy #MeToo scandal. What you get is Rebecca Makkai’s “I Have Some Questions for You,” a sleekly plotted literary murder mystery that garnered rave advance reviews and seems destined to be turned into a Netflix miniseries.
Should your book club read it? The answer likely depends on whether you prefer novels that emphasize plot or character. Makkai, a lyrical writer whose last book was the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award finalist “The Great Believers,” has gone all-in on the former with intricate plot twists (the novel feels about 100 pages too long) and a major red herring. But most of the characters are straight out of central casting: rumpled teachers, rich and spoiled preppies, and at the center, the problematic narrator, Bodie Kane, who describes herself as a “sometime college professor with a lauded podcast, a woman who could make a meal from farmers’ market ingredients.”
When the novel begins, Bodie has been invited back to the elite New England boarding school she attended in the 1990s as a scholarship student to teach a course on podcasting. Vaguely troubled by the murder of a former roommate, the beautiful, popular, privileged and white Thalia, she suggests that her students might want to look into it. A Black man who worked as the school’s athletic trainer was convicted of the killing, but a handful of internet sleuths believe the authorities got the wrong guy.
As her students dig into the case, she revisits her more than 20-year-old memories and wonders if perhaps she got some things wrong. Were the cool kids really not as cool as she thought they were? Was it possible that Denny Bloch, the charismatic music teacher she revered, was a sexual predator who was grooming Thalia and may in fact have killed her? The narrative is ostensibly addressed to Mr. Bloch and Bodie, as the title suggests, has a whole lot of questions for him. With its ripped-from-the-headlines flavor, Makkai has written a complicated whodunit fueled by feminist rage as Bodie relentlessly interrogates her past and recalls the countless murders of girls and women whose stories have been all but lost in our collective memory.