Ellen Pall’s Must Read Well immerses the reader in an escalating game of cat-and-mouse between two women: a millennial scholar driven to deceit to reach her goals and a frail octogenarian no less capable of deception.
Narrated by Liz Miller, a penniless Ph.D. candidate desperate to finish her dissertation, the novel begins when Liz’s boyfriend abruptly ditches her, rendering Liz homeless and reduced to couch-surfing at best friend Petra’s tiny Manhattan studio apartment. Trying to find an affordable living space, she stumbles across a Craigslist posting that will change her life: a room with a view in a pre-war Greenwich Village apartment. The rent is a pittance, but in exchange, the tenant must be willing to read aloud daily to the apartment’s sight-impaired landlady.
Liz quickly figures out that the sight-impaired landlady is none other than Anne Taussig Weil, author of the 1965 international blockbuster The Vengeance of Catherine Clark and the very woman whose refusal to cooperate for the past four years has held up Liz’s dissertation on the feminist works of mid-century women novelists. Access to Weil is the key to completing her doctorate at Columbia and finally getting her academic career back on track.
Liz sets scruples aside and presents herself as a quiet young woman still finding her way in life. Once settled in, Liz learns from Weil that her need for a reader stems from a desire to revisit a key episode in her life. That episode, recorded in the scrawled journals Weil kept since she was a young girl, turns out to be the story of her passionate, disastrous, secret love affair with a celebrated pianist-the affair, in fact, which gave rise to the plot of Vengeance.
The novel, which builds from there to a double-twist climax, is fast-paced women’s fiction, perfect for book club members everywhere.