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 Remote Rookery State College is the unlikely place where Neil Novotny, lousy English teacher and mediocre unpublished novelist, comes up with the idea of starting a jazz quintet.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. (First printing of 40,000)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-345-39356-2

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1995

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.


A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


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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