The Question Authority by Rachel Cline
Published by Red Hen Press ISBN 9781597098984
Trade paperback, $15.95, 222 pages
Rachel Cline's novel, The Question Authority, may be slim- only 222 pages- but it packs a lot into those 200+ pages.
We begin in 2009 where we find Nora looking for her lost cat, where they are the only occupants in her deceased grandfather's huge Brooklyn Heights home. She is heading for work at the New York City Department of Education, where she is part paralegal, part insurance adjuster, preparing paperwork for settlement offers for lawsuits against the department.
When her boss asks her to work up a settlement offer for a teacher accused of having inappropriate relationships with his female students, it doesn't sit right with Nora. When she was in 8th grade, her best friend Beth (and several other girls) were the victims of a 26 year-old charismatic pedophile teacher, Bob Rassmussen.
Nora discovers that the opposing counsel representing the teacher is none other than her former best friend Beth, whom she hasn't spoken to since high school. How could Beth represent this man after what happened to her?
Nora asks to take the case to court after finding that this teacher has been accused ten years earlier of the same thing and gotten a slap on the wrist. This puts her in conflict with Beth who assumes that the Education Department will settle and pay the teacher off, as they have repeatedly done.
Beth and Nora meet, and Nora wants to talk about what happened in the 1970s to Beth and the other girls. Beth has moved on, and doesn't want to rehash it. But Nora is dogged about it, and digs deep into Beth's life to find out what she wants to know.
Although Nora is the main narrator, we get chapters from other characters point of view- including emails from Bob Rassmussen where he details his attempts to reconnect with his own children. We find the trail of destruction he left is wide-ranging.
In the 1970s, Bob took his wife, young children, and several girls (including Beth) from Nora's school to Arizona, where he sexually abused the girls. Nora was supposed to go, but at the last minute she changed her mind.
There are a few heartbreaking revelations that come late in the story that I did not see coming, but really give the story a deeper resonance.
It took me awhile to get into The Question Authority, and reading it on an ereader sometimes made it difficult to keep track of who was narrating the chapter. (I recommend you read this in a hard copy.) But once I was able to keep things straight, I found myself enveloped in Nora's story, which I think many women who came of age in the 1970's can relate to.
The Question Authority is a book that you will want to sit with awhile after you finish. If you read a book by another woman named Cline- Emma Cline's The Girls- you should put The Question Authority on your list. They both deal so honestly with teenage girls' feelings in a 1970s setting.
Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Rachel Cline's tour. The rest of her stops are here: