THE SOCRATIC METHOD by Michael Levin

THE SOCRATIC METHOD

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

For his first novel, Columbia Law grad Levin (Journey to Tradition; The Odyssey of a Born-Again Jew, 1986) arranges familiar law-student gripes into a comedy of manners that turns into an academic fantasy--an inconsistent blend of the absurd and the exact. This frothy melodrama focuses on the tenure chase of Rebecca Shepard, a reddish-blond beauty who teaches Securities Law at staid and sclerotic McKinley Law School, where she's the only full-time female faculty member. Something of a prankster, she almost sabotages her extremely slim chances for tenure when, one week before her review committee meets, she sends a phony letter to all her mostly self-esteemed colleagues, announcing their selection as ""Professor of the Year"" by the students. Of course, this sham honor appeals to the vainglorious lot--a mostly obnoxious bunch, dedicated to instilling ""fear, self-doubt, and obeisance"" in the quaking victims of their Socratic teaching method. The self-important faculty includes the short and portly Murray Frobisher, a celebrity Criminal Law prof who spends more time defending pornographers and would-be political assassins than teaching class; Ron Blotchett, divorcÉ and make-out artist, upon whose ""clerkship couch"" female students must serve time for a recommendation; Aaron Mountain, a venial drudge who plays a hard game of quid pro quo with McKinley's Law Review editors in order to get published therein; and, worst of all, Sanford Clapp, a Contracts prof whose in-class viciousness has already contributed to three suicides. Rebecca finds allies in unlikely places--the ambitious Dean; some surprisingly open-minded old-timers--and she finds solace in the arms of ""the Saint,"" her student-lover, a former missionary and all-around good-guy. Levin excels at the genre's set-pieces (faculty meetings, classroom confrontations), relying on the accumulated lore of disgruntled law students everywhere. But his nifty, too-tidy ending is strictly prime-time pablum. Wooden characters and leaden dialogue obscure the important point that ""law schools exist for the sake of the faculty."" The institution still awaits its David Lodge.

Pub Date: Nov. 25th, 1987
Publisher: Simon & Schuster