This book won me over. I didn't expect it to, frankly. Lan Samantha Chang is a beautiful writer, with a keen ear for lovely sentences. Her prose is at once economical and haunting, which is bloody hard to do. And yet... the characters -- two aspiring poets in a prestigious unnamed writing school somewhere in the Midwest (yes, think The Iowa Writers Workshop, where Chang is Director) are really quite dreadfully clichéd - so much so that one of them, the starving pure-hearted one, actually lives in a garret. I rather cringed at that bit. So, here we have Roman, ambitious , worldly and a bit callow, a bit self-centered; and Bernard, the aforementioned saintly poverty-stricken purist. They both fall under the spell of a prickly-yet-brilliant professor named Miranda Sturgis, who talks like she came out of Central Casting for Poets, and Roman ends up in her bed. Miranda 'bludgeons" her students. "Is this a poem?" she is famous for asking. More cringing.It's an old tale, and I had the feeling the author was trying to make it new by a little gender-switching. The professor who sleeps with the student is female this time, but that didn't make it feel any more original to me. I couldn't help wondering if Chang was slyly parodying exactly the sort of work which these writer workshop MFA tend to turn out. If I hadn't already known she was a product of the school, I swear I would have known it simply from the rhythm of the prose and the style of the work, including the big thunk of exposition with which the book opens. I'd like to think it was a bit of a parody. With these faults in mind, I was taken aback by how bits toward the end of the book moved me. As a writer, I found some truths here, and some piercing emotion. "For it is through humility, he knew, that holiness - and poetry - find entrance to the human soul." Yes, I thought. I actually do believe that. Bernard, our saintly attic-dwelling poet, "had been working on his poem for decades when he began to understand how fervently he was attached to his own vanity, envy, and desire. Although they separated him from faith, these sins were all he had. He could not give them up, not even for God. On the riverbank, he knew he would never be worthy. How might God, all-knowing, and limitless, be expected to bother with his misshapen and pathetic soul – a soul twisted by its moral end and beginning?” Well, my, ahem. That’s awfully good. Of course, as intended, I was far more attached in the end to saintly Roman than I was to Pulitzer-Prize-winning Bernard, even if I couldn’t quite believe in him, and let’s be clear, as much as I’d like to believe in him, as much as the writing is beautiful, I no more believed in Bernard than I did in the absurdly convenient letter from a publisher, found unopened after Bernard expires Camille-like from lung cancer (modern day consumption, I suppose) offering at last to publish the one poem on which he’d worked his whole life. So, please, tell me Ms. Chang had a twinkle in her eye as she wrote this book, and I will pop it up to four, perhaps even five stars.