"The Wentworth Letter," by Jeff Soloway, in Malfeasance Occasional: Girl Trouble, edited by Clare Toohey.
The folks at Criminal Element have produced what they (and I) hope will be the first in a long series of e-anthologies. I should say I have a story in this collection, so I have reason to be fond of it. Editor Toohey has organized these stories of "girl trouble" in a way that I have never encountered before: from least to most graphic. In other words, things will get nastier as you move through the text. (My story comes about halfway through.)
I am still in the light and fluffy section I guess, and very much enjoyed this story by Jeff Soloway. It starts with a new student arriving in a college class studying the works of Jane Austen. Alex is the only man in the class and he is vulgar and rude. He also claims to have a rare letter written by Austen (and recently stolen from a museum).
The professor, Charles, happens to be the son of a wealthy woman who is an Austen fanatic. He's also sleeping with one of his students. Things get very complicated fast.
And besides a clever plot there is wonderful writing. Take the scene in which the professor's overbearing mother meets his lover for the first time, semi-dressed in his bedroom.
"I suppose your father is something virtuous, like a policeman or a tennis instructor?"
"You'll have to ask him," said Cheryl. "First you'd have to find him. My mother's a bank teller."
"And you're an English major. I'm sure she hopes you go to law school."
"All she wants for me is a job where I don't have to make change."
"Consider taking credit cards, dear. Charles, when you're done disgracing your profession, please make an appearance downstairs....Without concubine."
This story plays in two ways on the theme of girl trouble. First is the professor's involvement with his student. Second is the debate over whether Jane Austen is merely "women's fiction," and somehow less worthy of study than serious fiction written, by male authors. In light of the recent David Gilmour controversy the tale is oddly topical.