A novel written in screenplay format about the fall and redemption of a cantankerous college professor.
Tom Bowman has a unique approach to teaching. He believes in bringing the classics to life, even if that means occasionally badgering or otherwise intimidating his undergraduates at Long Island University, a college in an ethnically mixed neighborhood of Brooklyn in the 1970s. In fact, Bowman’s passion is what gets him into trouble. In an attempt to imbue Pope’s “The Rape of the Lock” with some graspable drama for his students, Bowman snips a lock of hair from a frightened student. The unconventional move lands him in hot water; instead of defending himself at a department meeting drawn in broad farcical strokes, Bowman chooses instead to tender his resignation. It’s the beginning of a sea change for Bowman, one that soon finds him sleeping with one of his former students. While Bowman’s fall is rather standard, Dulack (In Love with Shakespeare, 2001, etc.) reserves most of the high jinks for the second act: Bowman’s redemption. The twists and turns delight, and a happy ending feels all but assured. Dulack’s main conceit here is that literature has suffered under the mollifying dominance of film, a medium he defines as lacking “continuing life.” Somehow, this is supposed to justify the decision to present this novel as a screenplay, but despite some clever rhetorical gymnastics in the author’s preface—“Suddenly, ironically, it seemed that films of all unlikely things might ultimately be the salvation of literary writing in the 21st century”—Dulack’s claim fails to convince. Still, Dulack is an old hand at playwriting, though he insists on stark divisions between the related forms, and his expertise shines here in terms of pacing and character development. Readers will feel in good hands when it comes to the principal cast, less so when it comes to the supporting characters.
An unconventional novel tailor-made for its unconventional protagonist.