The Raising by Laura Kasischke
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The story starts out really strong. There's an accident. A girl has been thrown out of the car on a semi-rural road. A professor at the college saw it from a distance and is the first person on the scene. What she saw happen and what the newspapers and college report, however, are very different. The next chapter is a few months later when everybody arrives back on campus after summer break. The book follows key characters and explores the way the accident impacted their lives (or deaths).
Nicole Werner: She was the girl thrown from the car. She died. Or did she? She was a chaste virgin who was sweet, innocent, and loved her boyfriend, Craig. Or not. Other accounts indicate she was a slutty sorority girl who manipulated men and boys with her body. With Craig, she was what he wanted her to be.
Craig: Stuck up rich kid. Falls in love with Nicole, driver of the crashed car. Doesn't remember much of anything from the crash or shortly thereafter. What really happened to him? Was he duped? If so, how?
Perry: Craig's roommate who grew up with Nicole. He gathers information regarding the circumstances of Nicole's death and discovers that things may not be what they seem.
Shelley: The woman who came to the scene of the crash first. Professor of Art, respected, frustrated with how the newspaper and authorities reported and handled the crash.
Mira: Professor of Anthropology, mother of twins, married to Mr. Bipolar. Takes interest in Perry's thesis that the accident is not what it seemed.
What a fascinating premise! There are sightings of Nicole. Is she really dead? Is she a ghost? What really happened at the scene of the crash? Why can't Craig remember anything? Who is Nicole Werner? Clearly, something is going on at this sorority house. One of the residents, Josie, is a character that is constantly showing up and making her presence known. She is manipulative and completely without a moral compass. In fact, the girls in the sorority house lack a moral compass.
The writing is good. The story is compelling but, when push comes to shove, I can't recommend this book. It is raunchy. Not just a sex scene here or there but details that are forever burned in my head. Lesbian sex is spelled out in detail. It seems that on this campus, sex is paramount to all the students and faculty. There is a lot of pushing the boundaries with faculty and students, woman on woman, girl with anybody, boy with anybody. The story would be just as clear without all the detail.
Speaking of detail, the book takes off in a number of side stories that I found interesting but not relevant. Mira is having marital problems. Her husband is an unhappy househusband. Their twins have their own language. Perry got dumped by his high school girlfriend and now her husband is a vegetable because of an incident in Iraq. Craig's parents are divorced. All these strands lead off from the main story and don't seem to go anyplace.
My biggest complaint is that the ending was not satisfying. I spent over 400 pages glimpsing each character and formulating more questions about them. I wanted closure to not only the story but for each character. I found out if Mira's marriage survived and how Craig is doing later in life. I am still unclear about the accident, what caused it, where Nicole is, who is Nicole, and why there were such extravagant measures taken to cover it up. It seemed that the details of setting up the crash, the sorority secrecy, Shelley's life and Mira's marriage problems are well articulated. I wanted the ending to have the same care given. It felt like a different author wrote the last 50 pages.
Strong writing. Take out the raunch and extraneous details, give me the answers to my questions, and I would have loved this book.