New Yorker staff writer Robbins (co-author, Quarterlife Crisis, not reviewed) stretches a few secrets of the Yale secret society into a dreary extended narrative.
Herself a Yale grad and member of another such club (unnamed), the author begins with a dull history of the university and its hidden organizations. In 1832, William Russell returned to New Haven after study in Germany bearing the fundamentals of a secret society that used a death's head as its logo. The Order of Skull and Bones became the school's most prestigious club and retains that aura today; the 15 men and (since 1991) women inducted each year join a long list of distinguished Americans. Robbins describes the organization’s bonding methods. A private building, called a tomb, provides a safe haven for members. (An art restorer who repaired food-splattered paintings reports that it looks like most frat houses but with thicker walls and more morbid furnishings.) Skull and Bones pins with the number “322” are worn by members; 1832 was the year of origin, and “2” refers to Yale’s branch being the second one after the Germans’. Skull and Bones time is five minutes ahead of the rest of the world, but 1,802 years behind; current documents are dated D200. Only seniors join; each year's group chooses the next 15. Influenced by Laurence Stern's Tristram Shandy, the initiation is led by a senior acting as Uncle Toby. Intense personal discussions and boodleball (soccer played in the large dining room) create lifelong bonds among the 15 and with their predecessors, known as Patriarchs. A month after his inauguration, George Bush senior invited the surviving Bonesmen of his year to a White House reunion. At least 58 members donated money to the presidential campaign of Bush junior (Bones 1968). Humorless and emotionally bland throughout, Robbins's prose sucks the vitality out of the story: privileged college students must be having more fun than we see here.
Short on juicy secrets, long on tedium.