Goofy academic struggles for those who need a break in the faculty lounge.

COW COUNTRY

A comical novel about life at a zany community college, from debut author Pearson.

When Charlie gets the job of special projects coordinator at Cow Eye Community College, he’s not quite sure what to expect, especially after his bizarre phone interview: “Several questions concerned my relevant experience in highly divisive work environments and how I might resolve a series of hypothetical conflicts—for example, what I would do if one of my colleagues tried to sever the head of a key administrator.” Nevertheless, after a long bus ride to the town of Cow Eye Junction, Charlie is met by the man in charge, Dr. Felch. Charlie, he’s told, is replacing the last special projects coordinator, who had “countless awards and commendations. References from the Queen of England and Archduke of Canterbury” (though she turned out to be an “unmitigated disaster”). His goals seem relatively simple: ensure that the school maintains accreditation and plan the annual Christmas party. Unfortunately, those directives are anything but. The constantly feuding, eccentric faculty doesn’t help. Sam Middleton, a medieval poetry expert, is a “card-carrying institutional anarchist,” while Alan Long River, the public speaking teacher, “hadn’t spoken a word to anybody at the college—his students included—for more than twelve years.” Bureaucracy rules the school, and opportunities for conflict and adventure are many, including a team-building exercise in which new hires must castrate a calf and heated focus groups; one of the institutional researchers has “been very adamant that no educational endeavor should be attempted without first conducting a focus group or a survey of some kind.” Whether or not this mix proves humorous depends on the reader’s patience for tongue-in-cheek jokes about backwardness (“the unfamiliar voice belonged to the college’s tenured negroid’”) and adjunct professors (“We’re not allowed to refer to them by name”). Ambitious in its creation of this kooky world, the book will certainly strike a chord with readers lost in their own wacky arenas of academic bickering. Others may be bored by lengthy orientation sessions and party planning, as with the seating arrangement for the Christmas party: “We’ve also made sure to bring them together politically, economically, and ethnically. In each group there will be at least one laissez-faire capitalist and one left-leaning socialist. One centrist and one anarchist. One tenured faculty member and one who is non-tenured. One white, one Asian. A lumper and a splitter. A Catholic and a Protestant. Sikh and Hindu. Jew and jihadist. Social scientist and actual scientist. Vegetarian and anti-vegetarian.”

Goofy academic struggles for those who need a break in the faculty lounge.   

Pub Date: April 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-0990915027

Page Count: 540

Publisher: Cow Eye Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 26, 2015

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in White society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so Black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her White persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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