A series of interconnected short stories recount the highs and lows of a teaching career.
Scott Robinson, an apprehensive young Midwesterner, transplants himself to West London to teach high school English and American literature. In 20 tightly linked but meandering tales, Newton (Poetica Rex, 2013, etc.), a poet and retired high school teacher, highlights Scott’s struggles in and out of the classroom as he adjusts to life in bustling London: “[The] city tempo infused Scott with a certain amount of élan, some bravado and new zest for risk….He was plugging into the juice of the metropolis and enjoying close proximity to the glitterati, the glamour of major players.” In fact, Scott is just scraping by, constantly questioning his profession but having invested himself too deeply to turn back. During a “Parents Night” event, he sits alone at a table in the hallway, grading papers, when “suddenly he wanted to be left alone, to day-dream about the weekend coming or a nice hot whiskey drink before bed.” The generally unfocused stories tend to spiral into digressions without context, including a sudden revelation that Scott, despite his overt bachelorhood, has a daughter. A characteristic story, “A Season Travel Pass,” opens with Scott reflecting on the London Tube before straying into thoughts on the Magna Carta, his realization that he’s attracted to the French teacher, and memories of a student field trip to the Globe Theatre. The frequently redundant tales emphasize Scott’s near-misadventures, but they might have been more engaging if they’d driven Scott to make important decisions; instead, the stories are often cut safely but unsatisfyingly short. Punctuation and grammar errors, including misused semicolons, add to the confusion—particularly in a book about an English teacher. That said, Scott’s lyrical insights into the awkwardness of standing speechless before an unruly class, his triumphs as a teacher and father, or even his eagerness to get something to drink, make this collection worth reading. Taken together, the stories singularly depict the inherent snags that many teachers face but few discuss.
A frank but discursive fictional look at an underappreciated profession.