Debut author Greene offers a satirical horror novel about the intersection of Colonial America and higher education.
Marquis de Ronove, Ph.D., is, at least on the surface, a professor at a junior college teaching a night course titled “Cultural Anthropology: American Spiritism 143.” The class is usually attended by “the exhausted nurses’ aides, waitresses, day laborers, and maintenance men who needed to fill in hours toward their associate’s degrees.” Although his students tend to fall short of brilliance, a mixture of grade inflation and the professor’s own indifference make passing the course a near-guarantee; indeed, the classmates don’t even need to pay much attention to his stories of American colonial times. These harsh tales revolve around puritan superstitions and a number of foul characters, such as the “jaundiced and leather-skinned” Mother Crewe, a woman who, after being forcefully evicted from her shanty, creates quite a supernatural commotion. But what about the professor himself? Is he, as one student suggests, the same Marquis de Ronove who’s mentioned in the ancient Ars Goetia, one of several books created to “aid witch hunters in uncovering the multitudinous practitioners of the so-called Black Arts”? This novel is heavy on satire; after all, any educational system that would give tenure to someone who may not even be human is clearly one worth mocking. Ultimately, though, the book’s mockery goes beyond mere suggestion into the utterly fantastical. Readers need only look to the professor’s superior, the androgynous Betty, to find a creature who likes devouring cadavers’ organs. The creative narrative effectively paints scenes of both early America and the present day, which seem to be nearly equal in their levels of dark magic. Whether such wildness translates to thoughtful comedy depends greatly on readers’ tolerance for the professor, nicknamed “the toady” by the narrator, and for “foul-smelling, running tendrils of goo.” However, the book is not without its serious moments; for example, it describes the pilgrims as being “as complex, as honorable, and as weak as all the rest,” and just like people in the modern day attending a junior college, “they were men and women of their age.”
This book’s juxtaposition of the earnest and the downright zany make it a biting work.