The Headmaster's Darlings: A Mountain Brook Novel

The Headmaster's Darlings: A Mountain Brook Novel

The Headmaster's Darlings: A Mountain Brook Novel

The Headmaster's Darlings: A Mountain Brook Novel


A social satire of an unorthodox English teacher at an elite private school trying to save his students and career

The Headmaster's Darlings is a satirical comedy of manners featuring the morbidly obese Norman Laney, an unorthodox, inspirational English teacher and college counselor for an elite private school in Mountain Brook, a privileged community outside of Birmingham. A natural wonder from blue-collar Alabama, Laney has barged into the exclusive world of Mountain Brook on the strength of his sensational figure and its several-hundred-pound commitment to art and culture. His mission is to defeat "the barbarians," introduce true civilization in place of its thin veneer, and change his Southern world for the better. Although Laney is adored by his students (his "darlings") and by the society ladies (also his "darlings") who rely on him to be the life of their parties and the leader of their book clubs, there are others who think he is a larger-than-life menace to the comfortable status quo of Mountain Brook society and must be banished.

When Laney is summoned to the principal's office one day in November 1984, he expects to be congratulated for a recent public-relations triumph he engineered on behalf of the school. Instead his letter of resignation is demanded with no explanation given. Faced with an ultimatum and his imminent dismissal, Laney must outflank the principal at his own underhanded game, find out who said what about him and why, and launch his current crop of Alabama students into the wider world—or at least into Ivy League colleges.

In her debut novel, Katherine Clark casts a comical eye on Southern society and celebrates the power of great teachers and schools to transform the lives of young people and lift up their communities. Surrounded by a colorful cast of his colleagues, his young protégés and Mountain Brook's upper echelon, Laney emerges as a heroically idiosyncratic character with Falstaffian appetites, an inimitable wit and intellect, and a boundless generosity toward his students that reshapes their lives in profound, unexpected ways.


All cities have their secret venues known only to insiders or the native born. Every Southern city has its own splendid enclave of privilege where the very rich build their mansions in earthly paradises that block most intrusions from the rowdiness and havoc of the outside world. Katherine Clark grew up in the magical kingdom of Mountain Brook, a forested chapel of ease that looks like God’s own dream of a suburb. It is Alabama’s answer to the Garden District in New Orleans, or Atlanta’s Buckhead or Charleston’s South of Broad. Overlooking the battle-scarred city of Birmingham, it remained aloof and barely touched by the brutal struggles of the protestors for civil rights against police dogs, fire hoses, and all the shameful laws in the Jim Crow South. When the explosion at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church killed four black girls dressed in their Sunday best, my friend, the novelist Anne Rivers Siddons, was staying at a sorority sister’s house in Mountain Brook. When Annie heard the news, and questioned the parents of her sorority sister about what had happened on the streets of Birmingham, she was told again and again, “It’s nothing to worry your pretty little head about, Annie.”

That is Mountain Brook. It’s the second most important character in Katherine Clark’s marvelous debut novel, The Headmaster’s Darlings. and what a powerful character it becomes in her satirical view of the pampered location of her childhood. Looking down on a city of steel and iron, it served as an island of reprieve for the honored families lucky enough to inhabit its grand estates. It was built beneath the canopy of a hardwood forest and rose up as a communal ode to perfect taste. Like an Umbrian hill town, Mountain Brook can wound an outsider with its uncommon beauty, its inlaid tastefulness, and its proud rebuttal to all forms of excess or lack of restraint. This is a place that will always possess a quiet sublimity that maintains its own love story to a vanishing South. With its manicured gardens and sloping lawns . . .

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