A creative-writing instructor must choose between his serial killer instinct and the tenure track.
In a chilling afterword, Kinder (A Near-Perfect Gift, 2005, etc.) says she intended to write about Robert Weeks, whom she actually identified “from an episode of Unsolved Mysteries” and whom her ex-husband, a homicide detective, arrested. The fictional Arthur Blume, whose persona she inhabits instead, has many standard serial-killer traits. He trained by abusing animals. He had an inventively cruel, sporadically psychotic mother, alternately nurturing and withholding of love and (despite her wealth) financial support. Blume, now 50, has gotten a job at a second-rate university in Mason, Mo. His initially innocuous-seeming ruminations on departmental politics alternate with memories of his childhood and adolescence on his mother’s farm in Georgia. Occasionally, always in detached, offhand fashion, he mentions women that, years after the alleged slight, he had to dispatch because they had offended, in some trivial way, another male. Blume is immediately attuned to female turmoil in the English department. Queen-bee secretary Margaret has it in for Nada, an elderly woman who works as an underpaid factotum, den mother and gofer to the professors, yearning for mentorship. (Nada’s written stacks of unpublished and mostly unread manuscripts—fiction, songs and poetry.) Grace, a faculty colleague, comes on to Blume as does Justinia, a student and part-time stripper. Grace hopes to enlist him as a fellow bourgeois bohemian, but he’s an isolate who prefers his Victoriana-cozy apartment, where he obsessively massages the long-overdue successor to his “one-hit-wonder” first novel. Nada, although pestering him for validation (she crashes his advanced-writing seminar) is the closest thing he has to a true friend, until one icy day during spring break when the beast within must be fed. Blume’s personality disorder makes him a prissy, fastidious monster, critical of other serial killers’ cruder methods, but a monster nonetheless.
The juxtaposition of the marginal “adjunct nomad” experience with the casuistry of the sociopathic mind will genteelly horrify even non–English majors.