A teacher comes to terms with guilt, grief and regret while teaching GED classes to a motley group of students.
Tommy “Teach” Morrison works as a part-time instructor in the GED program at Toxononomonee Community College. This semester, Teach has asked each student to write an essay on what “GED”—an acronym traditionally standing for General Educational Development or General Equivalency Diploma—means to them. The students, a mixed bunch, come up with answers ranging from “Green Eggs and Da Ham” to “Guys Evoke Disgust” to “Give Everything Daily.” Meanwhile, Teach struggles with more than one dark secret. His relationship with his girlfriend Cheryl is on the rocks, partly because he can’t stop thinking about his college girlfriend Cait. While Teach wrestles with his past, tragedy strikes the school, the aftermath of which—including some brief trumpeting of Teach as a national hero—only complicates his problems. Banks shifts perspective regularly, a technique that propels the story along. The second-person scenes with Cait—memories of Tommy’s relationship with his college girlfriend—occur too frequently and don’t necessarily go anywhere, but they add urgency and immediacy to the story. Outside of these scenes, the plot flounders. A major chunk of the book consists of essays by Teach’s students, and while some are moving, many feel more like elaborate jokes at the expense of the character doing the writing, with mean-spirited, stiff humor and an eruption of sexual puns. Gags revolve around things such as a congressman admitting to bestiality, non-native English speakers mispronouncing words, a slightly long, Native American-sounding county name and rappers. The book avoids dealing with the consequences of trauma and violence, and its believability suffers as a result. In the end, the book—like its main character—is too concerned with Cait, and not nearly concerned enough with what is happening in the moment.
A unique, emotional but uneven story.