book cover of The World Cannot Give
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The World Cannot Give

(2022)
A novel by

 
 
The Girls meets Fight Club in this coming-of-age novel about queer desire, religious zealotry, and the hunger for transcendence among the devoted members of a cultic chapel choir in a prestigious Maine boarding school—and the obsessively ambitious, terrifyingly charismatic girl that rules over them.

When shy, sensitive Laura Stearns arrives at St. Dunstan’s Academy in Maine, she dreams that life there will echo her favorite novel, All Before Them, the sole surviving piece of writing by Byronic “prep school prophet” (and St. Dunstan’s alum) Sebastian Webster, who died at nineteen, fighting in the Spanish Civil War. She soon finds the intensity she is looking for among the insular, Webster-worshipping members of the school’s chapel choir, which is presided over by the charismatic, neurotic, overachiever Virginia Strauss. Virginia is as fanatical about her newfound Christian faith as she is about the miles she runs every morning before dawn. She expects nothing short of perfection from herself—and from the members of the choir.

Virginia inducts the besotted Laura into a world of transcendent music and arcane ritual, illicit cliff-diving and midnight crypt visits: a world that, like Webster’s novels, finally seems to Laura to be full of meaning. But when a new school chaplain challenges Virginia’s hold on the “family” she has created, and Virginia’s efforts to wield her power become increasingly dangerous, Laura must decide how far she will let her devotion to Virginia go.

The World Cannot Give is a shocking meditation on the power, and danger, of wanting more from the world.


Genre: Mystery

Praise for this book

"Tara Isabella Burton is both one of our sharpest writers of witty, propulsive fiction and one of our most profound thinkers on the 21st Century's search for religious meaning. With The World Cannot Give, she has united her talents and written a fun, serious, surprising, necessary novel about the twin adolescent thirsts for sexual experimentation and 'World-Historica' importance, and the way those thirsts shape and thwart each other. Calling to mind the work of writers such as Graham Greene, Muriel Spark, and Donna Tartt, The World Cannot Give gives and gives and gives." - David Burr Gerrard

"I love this book. Tara Isabella Burton writes beautifully about beauty, and about transcendence and longing and desire. Her characters are so vibrantly alive, so searching, so raw, so foolish and so profound. Wonderful from start to finish." - Phil Klay

"THE WORLD CANNOT GIVE is the perfect book for anyone who loves A SEPARATE PEACE, anyone who hates A SEPARATE PEACE and anyone who has never read A SEPARATE PEACE. It is at once wonderfully old-fashioned yet thrillingly modern, rich in setting and character, specific and universal. In short: I loved it." - Laura Lippman

"Tara Isabella Burton has consistently revealed herself to be one of this country's most interesting writers. There is almost nothing she sets her pen to that isn't page-turningly fascinating. She roots around the dark corners of the human psyche, writing astutely about the dangers of repression and the psychological and physical violence it often breeds. The World Cannot Give was as unexpected as it was riveting." - Attica Locke

"A finely drawn portrait of mystic passion and fevered yearning, THE WORLD CANNOT GIVE will keep you up long into the strange, dark, thrilling night." - Elisabeth Thomas


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