November 22, 2021 9:54 AM EST

When we meet the protagonist of Christine Smallwood’s novel The Life of the Mind, she’s sitting on the toilet, having just let her therapist’s call go to voicemail, on the sixth day of her miscarriage. Dorothy, an adjunct professor, has two therapists (she sees one to talk about the other) and hasn’t told either of them about the pregnancy. The opening scene gives way to a taut narrative about a series of endings, following Dorothy as she considers her desires and choices, particularly her aspirations as an academic whose reasonable goals now seem further from reach. What ensues is an incisive narrative about control, ambition and freedom, captured in clever and occasionally devastating terms.

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