Lisa Lutz’s new novel, The Swallows, is fast-moving, darkly humorous and at times shockingly vicious. The battle of the sexes within its pages couldn’t be more compelling.
The book opens as teacher Alexandra “Alex” Witt reluctantly begins a new role at the prestigious Stonebridge Academy, a boarding school in Vermont. Alex isn’t one of those teachers whose passion for the profession overrides all else. She doesn’t hate it, but she doesn’t love it. After losing a similar position following a scandal at her previous school, she’s just happy to be employed at all.
She doesn’t hate or love her students either, although they would be easy to hate after one of them hides a dead rat in her desk on the first day of class. Alex responds by assigning them five questions: What do you love? What do you hate? If you could live inside a book, what book? What do you want? Who are you?
What she gets in response is both surprising and mysterious. Many of the anonymous responses cite something called the Darkroom. It’s not long before Alex begins to match the students to their replies and discovers the school’s secret hierarchical pecking order, ruled from the top by a group of students known as the Ten. Even worse is a dark game in which the boys secretly rate and critique the girls on who gives the best blow job.
Student Gemma Russo quickly emerges as the second most important voice in the story as Alex convinces her to stand up for herself and the other girls on campus against their male counterparts, resulting in a wildly creative and hilarious episode.
Lutz delivers a frantic, morbidly funny story about what happens when girls are no longer willing to excuse bad behavior as “boys will be boys.”