ROOKERY BLUES by Jon Hassler
Kirkus Star


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The eighth novel from the author of the endearing Staggerford series (Dear James, 1993, etc.): a delight about five faculty members who in 1969 start a jazz group at their small Minnesota state college. Tongue firmly in cheek, Hassler cheerfully sends up student unrest, inane college bureaucrats, and other academic idiosyncracies both universal and peculiar to the '60s. Remote Rookery State College is the unlikely place where Neil Novotny, lousy English teacher and mediocre unpublished novelist, comes up with the idea of starting a jazz quintet. With the help of Peggy Benoit, Neil's muse and out-of-reach love, he recruits a cast of eccentrics from a town and state full of same: Leland Edwards, slavishly devoted to his mother (with whom he still lives), will play the piano -- and a mean piano it is; Connor, a painter lured away from a Minneapolis private college, plucks the bass; Peggy plays the clarinet; and Victor Dash the drums. The five make music against a backdrop of '60s shenanigans, as when Victor becomes campus leader of the Faculty Alliance of America, a neophyte union urging the faculty to strike (salaries have been frozen for two years). The novel goes on in this vein: bright, antic, and vivid, with lots of deadpan humor, romantic and political intrigue, affectionate reversals of fortune. Just when it seems that Neil will be fired because students arrange their schedules to avoid his class and because he isn't published, Connor arranges for Emerson Tate, a Minneapolis critic connected with a small press, to rewrite Neil's novel into a historical romance. With a supporting cast of characters who almost always amuse and entertain, Hassler's comic formula remains fresh, even as the strike fails and the caravan moves on. Hassler displays once again why he's the novel's answer to Garrison Keillor. This may not be Lucky Jim, but it's worthy to be mentioned in the same breath.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1995
Page count: 480pp
Publisher: Ballantine