Renowned classics professor Roberta Greaves finds her perfect life shattered by her husband's suicide and the huge gambling debts he has left behind. Grief-stricken and angry, Roberta must find a way to pay those debts. Remembering a particularly racy story from Ovid’s Metamorphoses , she decides to write an erotic novel, using a penname because she is worried that her career will suffer if her real identity is discovered. Drama critic John Schubert suspects the truth. Eager to bring Roberta down in revenge for some comments she once made, he finds an opportunity when he spots her with her publisher, who is well-known for the erotic literature he publishes. Meantime, Roberta hears some dirt about Schubert from the street kids with whom she does poetry workshops at a drop-in centre. Roberta's life is now a mess of potential blackmail and intrigue. What's more, she learns an unpleasant truth about her "Daddy," a doctor whose memory she has always revered. Despite her life having been derailed by sudden catastrophe, Roberta is able to face her bruised world and move forward as a better human being.
"Ann Birch has the talent, tenacity and rich experience base that are absolutely necessary to a fiction writer. Her insights hit the target and her sharp wit is evident on every page.”
—Gail Anderson-Dargatz, author of Turtle Valley
An award-winning educator, Ann Birch was an associate professor in the teacher-training programs at York University and the University of Toronto. She was Head of English in several Toronto high schools, and author of the best-selling text, Essay Writing Made Easy. She holds a post-graduate degree in CanLit and is currently a fiction writer and editor. Her first novel, Settlement, was published in 2010.
The Secret Life of Roberta Greaves by Ann Birch
reviewed by Isobel Raven
Writers & Editors Network - January 18, 2017
With delicious wit and irony, Ann Birch tells the story of Roberta Greaves, a professor of classic literature at Trinity College. Roberta compromises her moral principles and her professional integrity in order to raise money to cover her dead husband’s debts.
No, she doesn’t deal drugs or sleep with the Dean. She writes a sleazy, steamy novel—a work of pure crap. She gets the idea from a story of lust and incest told in classical literature by Ovid, the Roman poet. Myrrha of Ovid’s tale becomes Mira, the heroine of Roberta’s pulp. It sells, big time.
Her success has serious negative repercussions, and Roberta deeply regrets what she has done, even though the project achieves its purpose. She must hide her connection to Mira from her family and colleagues. She is in danger of losing everything she loves if she is found out and if she isn’t.
Supported by those who love her, Roberta makes her way through the mess of deceit and loss to a place where she sees a way to redeem herself. The book has a spectacularly happy ending. Enjoy.
Roberta puts the book back into its hiding place, but she can’t sleep for
thinking of the fascination the story once held for her. An idea slips into
her mind. It’s an absolutely crazy idea, but it stays with her nonetheless.…
She could rewrite the Myrrha story as an erotic novel, couldn’t she? Set it in
modern times? Make the father figure not a king––that wouldn’t work––but a
crusader, perhaps a man like Barack Obama, on whom the hopes of a nation
could rest. Or perhaps a lesser figure, a man who influences the people around
him. Her own Daddy had been a crusader. A village doctor, he’d fought for
the rights of women to birth control information and hospital abortions.
She remembers how she’d gone into Budge’s Pharmacy one day to get
something or other and seen her father deep in conversation with Mr. Budge.
“Look here,” she heard him say, “probably every teenaged boy in Summerton
is having sex in the front seat of his father’s Studebaker. Get those condoms
out from under the counter, damn it. Put them right out with the Listerine
mouthwash and the Vitalis. I thought we’d agreed on that.”
“I tried to oblige, Doc,” Mr. Budge said, “but the Eastern Star ladies gave
me a lot of flack. Not to mention the IODE. I got to think of my business.”
“You’ve got to think about what’s right, man, and…” He’d seen her then,
and stopped in mid-sentence.
Later, as they drove home together in the Oldsmobile, she’d asked, “What’s
a condom, Daddy?”
He’d thought for a moment, as he manoeuvred around a couple of corners.
Then he said, “It’s a rubber cover that slips over a boy’s penis and keeps him
from impregnating the girl he’s with.”
…When they got home, he’d taken a prescription form and drawn an
erect penis on it and explained how it got that way.
At that point she’d at last understood what Ovid meant when he said that
King Cinyras had filled Myrrha “with his seed.” And she’d gone upstairs and
reread the story with new insight.
…There might be a huge female readership for an erotic novel based on
“Myrrha.” …It might be a way, perhaps a sure-fire way, to cover some of