A hilarious new academic satire?

13 08 2018

The Shakespeare Requirement by Julie Schumacher



I’ve bemoaned the wait for a decent new campus novel for some time now as previously observed here. Indeed, it’s been quite a while since I’ve talked positively about anything like this. I’d go so far as to suggest that the distinctive Cow Country is probably the only decent effort in this regard for some years. However, there is a new challenger. Following the success of her previous epistolary outing, Dear Committee Members, Julie Schumacher has launched a fully-fledged satire on higher education which sounds like it takes on all the expected targets:


The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune keep hitting beleaguered English professor Jason Fitger right between the eyes in this hilarious and eagerly awaited sequel to the cult classic of anhedonic academe, the Thurber Prize-winning Dear Committee Members. Once more into the breach…
Now is the fall of his discontent, as Jason Fitger, newly appointed chair of the English Department of Payne University, takes arms against a sea of troubles, personal and institutional. His ex-wife is sleeping with the dean who must approve whatever modest initiatives he undertakes. The fearsome department secretary Fran clearly runs the show (when not taking in rescue parrots and dogs) and holds plenty of secrets she’s not sharing. The lavishly funded Econ Department keeps siphoning off English’s meager resources and has taken aim at its remaining office space. And Fitger’s attempt to get a mossbacked and antediluvian Shakespeare scholar to retire backfires spectacularly when the press concludes that the Bard is being kicked to the curricular curb.
Lord, what fools these mortals be! Julie Schumacher proves the point and makes the most of it in this delicious romp of satire.
Is it a delicious romp of satire? We’ll have to wait for the paperback (unless someone wants to send me a review copy) and then see what all the fuss is about. Is it as good as Cornford’s Microcosmographia Academica? Who knows, but “fearsome department secretary” doesn’t sound like a major character innovation and arguments about office space are tough to get a giggle out of. However, everyone who has read the book so far seems to like it – you can read all of the exceptionally positive reviews on Amazon.com here. I remain open-minded though and look forward to reading more about the slings and arrows in due course.

What’s up Doc?

11 08 2018

Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon

Part noir, part psychedelic romp, all Thomas Pynchon – private eye Doc Sportello comes, occasionally, out of a marijuana haze to watch the end of an era as free love slips away and paranoia creeps in with the L.A. fog.

It’s been awhile since Doc Sportello has seen his ex-girlfriend. Suddenly out of nowhere she shows up with a story about a plot to kidnap a billionaire land developer whom she just happens to be in love with. Easy for her to say. It’s the tail end of the psychedelic sixties in L.A., and Doc knows that ‘love’ is another of those words going around at the moment, like ‘trip’ or ‘groovy’, except that this one usually leads to trouble. Despite which he soon finds himself drawn into a bizarre tangle of motives and passions whose cast of characters includes surfers, hustlers, dopers and rockers, a murderous loan shark, a tenor sax player working undercover, an ex-con with a swastika tattoo and a fondness for Ethel Merman, and a mysterious entity known as the Golden Fang, which may only be a tax dodge set up by some dentists.

In this lively yarn, Thomas Pynchon, working in an unaccustomed genre, provides a classic illustration of the principle that if you can remember the sixties, you weren’t there…or…if you were there, then you…or, wait, is it…

I don’t think it really is that unaccustomed a genre for Pynchon to be honest. The setting feels a bit like a straight version of Vineland and the characters are exactly what you would expect. It’s a bit of a rambling plot but the drug-fuelled narrative somehow hangs together and the cast of strange friends and associates of Doc rarely disappoint. Entertaining stuff.


four stars

Rakish progress

4 08 2018

The Professor of Desire by Philip Roth


As a student in college, David Kepesh styles himself as ‘a rake among scholars, a scholar among rakes’ – an identity that will cling to him for a lifetime. As Philip Roth follows Kapesh from the domesticity of childhood out into the vast wilderness of erotic possibility, from a ménage à trois in London to the depths of loneliness in New York, Kapesh confronts the central dilemma of pleasure: how to make a truce between dignity and desire; and how to survive the ordeal of an unhallowed existence.

This really isn’t one of his best. Stylistically strong and well written as ever but Kapesh is not an appealing character and at the end of the day his journey of desire feels neither profound nor meaningful. Not a great addition to the campus novel list.


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