I really hadn't heard much about this book before picking it up at a thrift store. I vaguely remembered hearing it was pretty sexy, but I mostly I remembered the title and since it was only a buck, I picked it up (heh—no pun intended, given the content). Also, I was drawn by the prologue, in which a recount of a murderer's confession in which he was convinced anybody would do the same in his situation.
The book is about the murder of Theresa Dunn, a teacher in her late twenties who goes out at night to bars and picks up men. Theresa's brother, Thomas, died when she was young right around the time she got polio. She hid the pain from her parents out of guilt and fear, and by the time she was treated she had a curvature of the spine, for which she had to have an operation. The operation leaves her with both a limp and a scar.
As a young woman she falls in love with one of her professors, but after a lengthy affair he sends her away. He's the first in a series of bad relationships—actually it's no relationships, as Theresa gets into the habit of going out to bars and picking up strangers to bring them home. The only relationship she manages to develop is with James, a kind man who loves her despite her faults.
Rossner is a first-rate writer, to be sure. At times the material felt cloying; yet I found it difficult to put it down. Obviously as a reader you know Theresa was murdered at the beginning of the story (it says so), but the story is really about Theresa and how she develops—or doesn't develop—throughout her life. Also, I have to admit it felt cloying because I identified so strongly with Theresa in terms of how she felt, and her realization just before the end that her childhood experiences have cast an immeasurable pall on her adulthood made her death feel all the more tragic; it felt like she was just on the cusp of something better. I doubt she would have turned over a new leaf the morning after her last lover (the man who killed her), but given time, I think she could have grown to like herself.