Rebecca Wolff mines her background as a poet in this haunting, luminous tale in which a teenager’s sexual consciousness awakens in the small village of Wick, Massachusetts. Ginger Pritt is only fifteen when she meets cosmopolitan sophisticates Raquel and Theo Motherwell, students of history who have just arrived in town to do a doctoral study on the history of the New England witch trials.
Lovely Raquel and handsome Theo are a welcome respite for Ginger, who works as a waitress in the local “Top Hat” café
during her final year of high school. An indiscriminate reader prone to novels that feature doomed love affairs, failed lives, and dark secrets, Ginger is just starting to explore her sexuality. During breaks at the café, she sneaks a look at her boss’ constantly updated porn collection, these clandestine studies leaving her feverish with “knots in her loins"
and introducing her to a power that might someday be hers.
Ginger’s only real friend is Cherry, who is a couple of years older, but Cherry’s thoughts are mostly wrapped up in boys and husbands and babies. Like Ginger, Cherry is emotionally prone, but she also has the raw materials for brilliance, exhibiting a largesse that seems to be getting them both through the tumultuous school years. Ginger’s mother and father love her, but since their son, Jack, died after a night of reckless drinking, they’ve become distant, lonely, and unassailable.
Clearly Ginger still possesses a child’s naive capacity for belief. She jumps at the opportunity to spend time at the Motherwells' house; it isn't long before Cherry befriends the older couple as well, both drawn into the strange,
urbane world of Theo and Raquel with their warm promises of future days. A hot June, and the sun is high in the sky. After many nights of gentle confidences, the four go swimming at Wick Reservoir. Tumbling out of a small inlet, the beach is mostly hidden from view.
The heat pushes all of Ginger's adolescent doubts away. Raquel is curious about Ginger and her life in Wick. Weaving a cocoon of questions and answers, Ginger becomes fully immersed in Raquel's life: “she’s a foreign language and I her student.” Theo becomes the true interloper with his unfailingly glamorous and lanky body. Eventually falling into an abyss of her own making, Ginger is caught up in Theo’s adult motives and his kinetic desires: “he was more beautiful and more exquisite.”
A vivid turn of events forces Ginger and Cherry to face painful desires, the girls having no control over their bourgeoning sexuality. Ginger longs for mystery and excitement; despite Cherry’s warnings, she falls ever deeper into the world of this magnetic couple who give constant wonder and delight, her first encounter with them holding “in its virgin arms” a discreet premonition of all that is to come.
While a fascinating tie to the flooding of nearby towns demonstrates Wolff’s skill at plot, her depictions of teenage sex
form the crux of the novel. The author's brutal candor impresses most as Ginger enters an erotic fugue over Theo. Her story rests on the power of ghosts and history, as Ginger is finally forced to confront some stark truths about her life and the world around her.