Monday, October 28, 2013

The Last First Day; Carrie Brown

Pantheon/Random House - 2013

The Last First Day has so many of the elements that make a reading experience special  for me. First was the setting -- an isolated, private prep school for boys in New England.  Unlike most prep schools, this school did not recruit boys from wealthy families, but rather those from poor, unfortunate circumstances.  Another thing I loved about this book was that it so introspective. The story was told from the perspective of Ruth, a now elderly woman looking back at her life and life choices. There is not a lot of action or earth shattering secrets that are revealed,  but the story is both quiet and powerful all the same.  It's a love story, but not one that is corny or sappy and it is just so beautifully written and descriptive.
(INTRO)---" That morning, in anticipation of the party to be held at their house in the evening, Ruth unearthed the vacuum cleaner from the front hall closet.  She had to move aside a heap of belongings to reach it -- umbrellas and boots and musty-smelling coats--as well as Peter's old film projector, heavy as lead in its mossy green case, and half a dozen cartons containing reels of footage from their early days at Derry.  A brand-new teacher then, his enthusiasm like a light inside his face, Peter had recorded everything during those first years, endless hours of slow-moving football games, canoe races on windy spring afternoons with the boat shunting jerkily across the lake, the winter evening Robert Frost came to read his poems in the chapel.  Mr. Frost had been aloof that evening at dinner, attending vaguely to the conversational gambits offered by the school trustees who had been assembled for the occasion.  The meal had been splendid fare by the dining hall's usual standards, stuffed clams and lobster with melted butter, corn and boiled potatoes, blueberry pie.  The occasion had been a triumph for Peter, who had arranged it, and an honor for Derry, which then had no real standing among boys' schools of the day, its pupils drawn historically from poor families rather than the well-heeled aristocracy  of New England."

It's the first day of the new school year at New England Derry School for Boys in Maine. Peter and Ruth, a well-educated couple now in the 80's have spent their married life here. Peter got his PhD at Yale and Ruth went to Smith. Many thought Peter was capable of something far greater than the Derry school as his life work. For Peter, prestige was never important and rising to Headmaster in just a few years was good enough for him. Over the years Peter gave back much more in time and salary than he received from working there, but he did what he loved, Now at  76 years old he still serves as Headmaster and although the school is changing, and they must now recruit from wealthy families to stay afloat, Peter's outlook and mission is much the same as it was 40 years earlier.

For Ruth, despite her intellect and education, she chose to live in the shadow of her husband and support him in any way she could. Ruth was the "good wife".  She had a terrible childhood  and could best be described as "a loner and a woman uncomfortable in her own skin."   The first time she had met Peter, in their early teens, was after a horrible situation occurred and she needed a place to stay. It was Peter's family took her in briefly. She was extremely vulnerable,and although she went to live elsewhere, the two were reunited in college.  My heart went out to Ruth over and over again. I loved that she had such a keen grasp on the feelings of others and how found beauty in little things that most people would not even notice.

Anyone who has ever questioned their life choices, wondering whether they should have stayed or left a long term relationship should try this book.  I think baby boomers will especially appreciate this beautifully written reflection on a marriage -- a real treat. 

4.5/5 stars 

(review copy received through Amazon Vine program)


  1. Love stories about boarding schools (although the real thing sounds not my thing!) Must check it out.

  2. I think I might like this. From your description, it sounds like a thought provoking and worthwhile read. Thanks for sharing, Diane!

  3. This book sounds beautiful, Diane. I already like Ruth and want to know her. The setting is wonderful and I like the non-wealthy status of the boys.
    Thank you for a terrific review!

  4. I love the sound of this one! I love reading about complicated marriages (aren't they all really?). Adding this to my wish list.


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