Gail Godwin’s new novel, Unfinished Desires is set in a small Catholic girls’ boarding school in the Smoky Mountains in North Carolina. The school was open from 1908 until it closed in 1990. The retired headmistress of the school, now in her 80′s, is dictating a history of the school for those who were a part of that history. Her stumbling block is the decade of the 1950′s when something happened that caused her to take a year’s leave of absence.
Usually, I prefer a story that unfolds in a straight chronological line; perhaps it’s my inability to keep track of too many things at once, but Godwin skillfully moves between the actual events of 1950, 1951 and 1952 and the recording of the memoir. It’s a wonderful portrait of life in a convent school, life in a small town in North Carolina and life in the 50′s. The convent parts of it reminded me of Sarah Dunant’s Sacred Hearts, but there are events that are unique to 20th century southern America that bring to mind books by Lee Smith and even a favorite from a few years ago, Divine Secrets of the YA-YA Sisterhood.
It was a real treat to read and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys books of this nature.