It is 1969, and Carole Faust, one of this dexterous novel's several protagonists, becomes the first female student at a boys' boarding school in Massachusetts, "a misunderstanding that arose from a clerical error when Mrs. Graves, distracted by her embarrassing and ultimately liberating divorce, mistakenly included Carole's name in the 'Negro' acceptance pool." For her senior project she paints a series of subversive portraits of the school's heads and is blocked from graduating, but decades later she is invited back to give a commencement address. Cooke's writing is so sensuous and alert it would be easy to miss the novel's symbolic qualities. When a man drowns, his wife and daughter are "liberated instantly and forever." Subsequent liberations are less absolute, but it is always women who are liberated, and it is always fromthe grip of "the old, narrow, ossified, privileged, entitled few."