A put-upon academic copes with feuding jocks, corrupt professors, randy students, and an even randier wife in this comic novel.
As a middle-aged English professor at subpar California State University, Malcolm Wade toils thanklessly to improve his classes’ semiliterate writing while occasionally fending off propositions from bosomy students seeking better grades. His sideline as counselor to the school’s athletes is more dramatic—and gratifying to his sports obsession. He gets to mentor baseball/football phenom Juke Jackson but also has to clean up a tangle of jealous betrayals and rape accusations involving the player, his girlfriend, and a teammate. Complicating Wade’s job is an African-American history professor whose low academic standards—jocks get automatic A’s—threaten CSU’s accreditation. When Wade challenges her, she graphically belittles his manhood and cries racism (even though she is secretly white). At home, Wade’s wife, Angela, a gorgeous nympho who is also his dean, flummoxes him by announcing that she wants to adopt a child and then reveals that her ex-boyfriend is blackmailing her with a sex tape. In this third installment of Wade’s misadventures, Hutcheon (Desperation Passes, 2015, etc.), a film and writing professor at Delta College, stuffs a meandering, episodic narrative with off-the-wall situations, lurid characters, and punchy, gleefully scabrous dialogue. (Sample marital exchange: “Are you coming in, or are you just going to stand out there twiddling your dick?”) The result is a sometimes-cynical, sometimes-affectionate spoof of academe that’s masculinized with locker-room bawdiness. (When his oral ministrations fall short, Angela rebuffs Wade “like a pitcher being pulled from the game.”) The author writes with skill and brio but sometimes offers readers too much. Scenes can drag on just to showcase the jokey repartee, and the professor in him veers off on didactic tangents about everything from cancer awareness (“Half of the men in America don’t even know what a prostate is until their own tries to kill them”) to the plight of returning veterans (“After all they’ve been through in Afghanistan or Iraq, do we care enough to make sure they can make a decent living here?”). Still, the nebbishy but subversively funny Wade makes an endearing ringmaster for this rollicking collegiate circus.
An entertaining picaresque that mixes higher education and sports in hilariously inappropriate ways.