When Tracey gets a writer-in-residence position, it's a dream come true for her novelist aspirations - but she didn't bargain for the scholarship's sponsor Michael to seduce her. The fictional Edinburgh University in Scotland has a new funding program for writers-in-residence and struggling 25-year old writer and Italian restaurant waitress Tracey wants in. She has spent the past few years since college struggling to pay rent/bills and keep a roof over her head while trying to write novels about life in council housing, a UK version of the ghetto, though relatively less notoriously violent. Urban poverty has left its mark on Tracey, however. She knows what it's like not knowing if she will have enough money to buy food for the next week, and is scarred by her father's early and unceremonious departure from her life when she was only five years old, leaving her with an alcoholic mother and her mother's string of increasingly untrustworthy boyfriends. Writing became an escape for Tracey, and she needs a scholarship to pursue it. The writers-in-residence grant is sponsored entirely by a wealthy 32-year old doctor, Michael. He has always wanted to nurture the arts because he felt there wasn't enough emphasis on that in school when he was growing up. Eager to fulfill her dream but doubtful she'll get in, Tracey submits her application to the program, which includes an interview by the sponsor, Michael, and two professors.
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Tracey's nascent writing talents are barely recognized by the two stuffy male professors, but during the interview Tracey feels that Michael takes a keen interest in her, and eventually she hears that she was accepted. But on what grounds, she can't help but wonder. At the formal welcome dinner for the chosen writers, Michael is flirtatious, but in a cool and mocking way, as if trying to bait Tracey out of her hard, sharp-edged outer shell. Tracey does not appreciate this. They end up arguing heatedly about the role the government ought to play in funding social welfare programs and the creative arts departments at state-funded schools, and Tracey finds that she dislikes him and his privileged background intensely.
The writers end up being housed in a building that was donated to the university by Michael's grandfather, and it is right next to Michael's house. One of the writers, a student named Jessica, befriends Tracey as the weeks progress and they share their drafts with each other. Meanwhile, every time Michael is with her, he both mildly pokes fun at her work and comes closer and closer to seducing her. Tracey fends him off, not daring to admit her own attraction to him. She is further surprised when Michael takes a look at her storyboard ideas one day and remarks with unusual sensitivity and insight that she has powerful things to say about the nature of parent-child relationships.
And indeed he is not far from the mark, as Tracey gets a hysterical phone call from her drunk mother, Nancy. Nancy has found out that Tracey has access to grant money now and begs her to spare some. Tracey refuses tiredly and sadly, knowing her mother will use the money to buy drugs or alcohol, which drives her mother further into despair. Tracey cannot stop herself from going over in the rain to check if her mother is all right. It is a depressing visit, in which Traceyis reminded of the squalor in which she grew up and sees her mother surrounded by dangerous friends. She attempts to convince her mother to return with her or get help, all in vain. Despairing, she gives up and leaves. On the way back, when Tracey is attempting to walk home in the heavy rain in order to save subway money, Michael's car pulls up (which makes me wonder if he was stalking her) and he takes her home, ordering her to take a hot shower. When she almost faints in the bathtub, he gently dries her, puts her in a fluffy robe, and takes her to bed. When she feebly protests, he kisses her and tells her to sleep. Tracey feels reassured and protected and falls asleep. By the morning, she is in love, against all her previous instincts.
But Michael shows no signs of being in love with her, apart from the occasional tenderness and genuine concern about her mother. She carefully tries to hide her emotions, but her heart aches every time MIchael makes a pass at her, clearly interested in her body but not apparently in her heart. One day, while Jessica and Tracey are at dinner, there is a loud knock on the writers' house door. It turns out to be Tracey's mother's drug dealer, who informs Tracey that her mother is dead unless Tracey appears with the money he is owed by tomorrow. In a panic, Tracey shrugs Jessica off and runs to an ATM, withdrawing all the money in her account to pay off the drug dealer at the place and time he stipulated. She is in despair about her own future, but cannot allow her mother to die. But when she reaches the the council house where she was told to meet the drug dealer, she hears a car behind her and is startled to see Michael turn up. Jessica told him everything in alarm, and now he will protect her. Michael orders Tracey into his car as police cars appear behind him. The drug dealer tries to run, but they catch him. Michael takes Tracey home and scolds her for not telling him before running off to meet a dangerous criminal, and she feebly says she wasn't sure he would care. He tells her she is foolish and that he cares very much. He says he didn't realize how much Tracey meant to him until that moment, but admits that she has stolen his heart and he wants to protect her forever - and her mother. Overjoyed, Tracey accepts.
Best part of story, including ending:
It was interesting to read a story about student writers, it was an unusual premise.
Best scene in story:
The scene in which Tracey goes home to confront her drugged out mother is pretty moving and sad.
Opinion about the main character:
I loved Tracey's dedication to her family and her strong social conscience.