This disappointing first novel invites comparison with Malamud's A New Life--both concern northeastern Jewish academics stuck in Podunk universities. But Kaplan lacks the wit--and certainly the literary dimension--of Malamud, not to mention Amis, Jarrell, Lurie, Lodge, et al. Broke and uninspired, poet Philip Pearl leaves his metropolitan orbit for the wilds of Mississippi, and a one-year appointment at Pickett State, where he's to teach Eng. Lit. to the yokels. Pearl's credentials include one book (Oedipus at Seacaucus), a few poems in The New Yorker, and an undergraduate degree. His year in exile begins predictably enough: he can't understand the accents, hates the food, and longs for The New York Times. A self-consciously Woody Allen-esque fellow (the unfunny version), this dark and kinky-haired writer-who-never-writes wistfully lists his Manhattan memories: ""116th and Broadway on a slushy day; the droning voice of a militant lesbian on WBAI; the fusty aisles of his beloved Gotham Book Mart."" Meanwhile, Pearl's colleagues, none of whom is developed with any subtlety, include the usual assortment of badly dressed dweebs who write bad poems and worthless scholarly stuff. The administration seems made up of a number of interchangeable bureacrats, and the students of course are mostly blond-headed, blue-eyed morons. Not accustomed to small-town life, Pearl pursues the lone dark goddess, an Italian prof's daughter whose beauty makes ""his tear ducts sting."" While pining for the unattainable Francesca, Pearl settles for her old friend Jewel as bedmate. But unfortunately for the displaced Manhattanite, this tough-talking, good-time gal has a very jealous boyfriend who likes to solve things with a shotgun. . . Just as Kaplan seems to gearing up for some outrageous down-home shenanigans, his novel gives up--no longer able to carry the weight of the forced literary allusions and the pointless plot developments.