A professor faces the drama of academia and the emotional demands of family life in Senturia’s debut novel about work and ambition.
Martin Quint and his wife, Jenny, are trying to conceive a child. If that weren’t stressful enough, he’s about to start another semester at the Cambridge Technology Institute—teaching the “Circuits & Electronics” class, advising grad students, and hurtling toward a deadline to submit a proposal to DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency). On the same day that he tries to manage an upset colleague whose paper has been rejected, he’s invited to participate in the university’s highly confidential Personnel Committee. His first assignment is to advise the tenure application of his fellow professor Kat Rodriguez. His attention to Kat makes Jenny jealous as she juggles an interior design job, the care of her 4-year-old son from her first marriage, Martin’s absences due an intense workload, and finally, a pregnancy. Meanwhile, Kat prepares her stellar tenure record, despite grumblings from the tenure review panel that research grants more tenure than teaching experience. Just when Jenny needs Martin most, he accompanies Kat to a conference in Istanbul, fanning the flames of his wife’s resentment. The couple comes together in time to welcome a baby daughter into the world, but that joy is quickly dampened when someone steals Martin’s backpack, which contains confidential documents about Kat’s application. The novel comes to a crescendo as Kat hears the final tenure decision, Martin receives an unexpected job offer, and Jenny and Martin try to meet their family goals. The chapters move along quickly and the dialogue is true to life, particularly between Jenny and Martin as they navigate the bumpy road of marriage. The initially overwhelming amount of academic jargon (which doesn’t even define what DARPA stands for) eventually becomes less important as Senturia establishes the characters’ wants and needs. It’s a shame, though, that there are stereotypes among the players: for example, Felice, Martin’s West African assistant, is described as “coal black,” and women characters often cry, whether they’re a professor, student, wife, or sister. More nuance in these and other characterizations would have elevated this novel.
A sometimes-stereotypical tale of university life, but readers steeped in academia will appreciate and identify with Martin’s problems.