I Have Some Questions for You

Makkai, Rebecca

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Annotated by:
Trachtman, Howard
  • Date of entry: Jul-24-2023


I Have Some Questions for You begins with the visit of Bodie Kane to Granby, the upscale New Hampshire boarding school that she attended on scholarship far from her home in rural Indiana. Back then she was a sullen out-of-place grungy adolescent, but now she is a successful journalist, famous for producing a podcast about the careers of women in Hollywood. She is a successful alumna and has been invited to teach a mini-course on podcasting during the mid-winter break. The life she leaves behind on the flight from Los Angeles is meta-stable, poised between a divorced husband living comfortably next door (he helps with child rearing) and a mysterious Israeli lawyer with whom she is having an on again-off again affair.

Bodie’s arrival at Granby triggers the resurfacing of complicated and painful memories of her time in high school. She asks each student in her class to make a podcast as a class project. Bodie suggests to one of them that she look into the death of Thalia Keith, who was found drowned in the school pool the night after she appeared in a play performance. Omar Evans, the school’s Black athletic trainer, was arrested and convicted of the murder after minimal investigation by the school or the local police. Thalia, the campus dream girl and object of adolescent desire, had been Bodie’s mismatched roommate the year before the murder. Bodie has deep suspicion about who killed Thalia and why it happened, all centered on a charismatic drama teacher. The predatory shadow of this abusive teacher hovers over the book from start to finish. The story unfolds in the wake of the #MeToo movement. But she is also uneasy about how the judicial system has mishandled Omar’s case and hopes the podcast may unearth new evidence that might cause Omar’s case to be reopened and exonerate him. But nothing in this deeply layered novel proceeds in a straight line. Her divorced husband becomes the subject of a social media attack for presumed sexual misconduct, and Bodie is forced to react. Old friends reveal new secrets. Established history is seen in a new light. What Bodie thought she knew about people is upended. The ending is neat but satisfying. Rebecca Makkai does not just have her finger on the pulse of our time – she is able to bring it fully to life.  


This novel is the first one that Rebecca Makkai has written after her widely praised book The Great Believers. Although the focus of her two books is completely different, they are both embedded in the zeitgeist and display the author’s talent for creating whole worlds on paper. They are dense with life, filled with characters that breathe and events that are believable. There is clean interlocking of all the moving parts, but it always feels as natural as a novel can be.

 In 2019, I reviewed the novella, His Favorites by Kate Walbert. Reading the summary of I Have Some Questions for You might lead you to dismiss Rebecca Makkai’s book as derivative, a rehash of incalculable harm caused by sexual predators to susceptible adolescents. The setting and the main protagonists are the same in both books, mostly privileged students attending a prestigious boarding school in a self-contained location outside the hubbub of urban life. In both books, there is the threat of sexual abuse by charismatic teachers and the unspooling of the consequences over time for those involved and the “innocent” bystanders. 

But this line of thinking would be a mistake if it caused you to pass by Makkai’s book. There are clear differences in the plot. Makkai centers her story around a murdered student and the long-drawn-out legal proceedings to reopen the criminal investigation more than two decades later.  The narrator is not the victim, and the cast of characters is broad and interacts in multiple dimensions -- sexual, racial, and class. Walbert constructed a more interior narrative, and the abused student is our guide though the dispiriting story. Makkai’s book occurs on two temporal planes – a successful former student returns to the school to teach a mini-course between semesters and is provoked to look back on  the case of the murdered student who had been her roommate. In Walbert’s tale, the events unfold moving forward in time as the central character and victim of the abuse tries to  come to terms with what has happened to her and the impact it has had on those around her. They are both meaningful literary creations that bring to life the horror of  sexual abuse that can occur when one of the partners exerts dominance based on a position of power within the social hierarchy.

Reading these books at different times but in conversation with one another  suggests that there is another artistic dimension that distinguishes these two novels. In Isaiah Berlin’s famous essay about Tolstoy, he introduced a distinction between intellectual hedgehogs and foxes. Whereas hedgehogs know a vast amount about one thing, foxes know something about a lot of things. Berlin provided a picturesque metaphor for the distinction between depth and breadth, something that can usefully be applied to the analysis of these two books. I would classify Walbert’s book as a hedgehog, a narrow but very deep depiction of what happens when a teacher takes advantage of his “appeal” to sensitive students and destroys their sense of self-worth. Walbert maintains a laser focus on the student, the teacher, and until  the very end of the book, on the school. In contrast, Makkai’s book is a fox that ranges over a much wider territory. It presents a varied landscape that is populated by many different characters, acting in varied settings, and responding to a wide range of forces that are inexorably set in motion by the abuse and murder of the student. There is a fullness, a richness of texture in I Have Some Questions for You that contrasts with the intense, almost claustrophobic heat of His Favorites. We as readers should be grateful that there are talented authors like Rebecca Makkai and Kate Walbert who can shed light on life with such different styles and help us view the narratives that they invent from such disparate perspectives.


Viking Press



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