The reader meets Arthur Winthrop as he arrives at Central Park West very early on a winter's morning. Arthur is the esteemed Headmaster of Lancaster College, Vermont. Arthur's father, and his father before him were also Headmasters at Lancaster. Arthur strips naked and walks through the snowy park, he is arrested and taken away to be interviewed by the police. During this interview Arthur confesses to a deed far more serious than walking naked in public.
Arthur's story is sad but also a little menacing. He speaks of a student called Betsy Pappas; bright and beautiful and out of bounds to a married teacher who holds a position of power and trust. Yet Arthur is totally obsessed by Betsy, risking his reputation and his marriage to catch a glimpse of her, to steal a night away with her, to try to make her love him. Betsy has become a drug, he is addicted and will let nothing and nobody stand in his way. He is determined that she will be his and his only.
Thomas Christopher Greene tells the story of The Headmaster's Wife in three parts; Acrimony, Expectations and After. Arthur's narrative makes up the first half of the story, with the second part and the ending relayed by different character's points of view. Arthur does not appear to be a terribly reliable narrator, nor does he evoke a great deal of empathy from the reader. However, just a few pages into the alternative narratives will tell the reader so much more about Arthur, and opinion and viewpoint changes dramatically.
This is a very complex story, it is also a little confusing in parts and I found it extremely difficult at times to feel anything at all for any of the characters, with the exception of Russell.
There is no doubt however that Greene is a gifted author. His words are haunting and depict the unravelling of Arthur's mind so well. The Headmaster's Wife is a story of how grief can make life unpredictable.