LaRue’s novel satirizes the backbiting politics and scandals of a mediocre Southern university through the eyes of its faculty.
Romantic scholar and professor Joyce Michalak returns triumphant from sabbatical, having caught the brass ring in academia—future publication by the esteemed Oxford University Press—in hopes of acquiring tenure to the English department. But Joyce’s senior colleague, gatekeeper to the department and nemesis, Philip Tinsley, will go out of his way to shoot down Joyce’s chances. As Joyce confronts her daily life of teaching apathetic students, rubbing elbows with celebrity guest professors and competing with the other lit teachers angling for tenure, she becomes romantically involved with one of her students, a young Bosnian man named Alexi. With Philip already out to ruin her chances at tenure, Joyce not only keeps the illicit (according to university rules) relationship a secret but goes on the offensive by filing a false grievance against Philip and digging into his sexually predatory habits. LaRue’s novel gets stronger as it progresses and she focuses on a few central characters rather than the many ancillaries in the first part of the book. No one is who they seem as the evangelical (and adulterous) Chancellor Prouty wheels and deals with less-than-respectable corporations and institutions to bolster funds for the university. Prouty’s hypocrisy and pathetic soul-searching are particularly funny and over the top. LaRue portrays Joyce as a flawed, self-absorbed woman who, nonetheless, is an appealing protagonist. The author makes sure that everyone gets what they deserve, as is often the case in a good satire—Joyce struggles to reach some sort of epiphany as a result of her affair with Alexi. Throughout the story, affairs abound and who will catch whom doing what first is a key element that keeps the pages turning in this intelligently written, humorous take on the ugly underside of academic life.
A well-crafted, sardonic look at university life.