A buoyant farce that intelligently captures the current crisis of American higher education.

TENUOUS STATE

A college dean with a checkered past confronts challenges at a failing university in this debut novel. 

Connor Ransom’s first career as a minister ended spectacularly: He had an affair with a parishioner, Lisa Nordeen, whose husband, Ned, jumped off a bridge after discovering her indiscretion. Ned survived the fall, but died by suicide later, after Connor skipped town with help of his boss, Sterling Holmes. Connor started over as a professor of religion at Ocotillo University, an unheralded college in New Mexico that’s fraught with internal dysfunction. Its president, Walter Driscoll, elevates Connor to the position of dean after only two semesters and promptly retires, leaving the professor to fend for himself. But when Connor’s old boss, now called Sterling Holmes-Ortega after getting married, astonishingly becomes the college president, it puts the new dean in a bind. Sterling becomes obsessed with quantifiable assessment of the college—his aim is to transform it into the nation’s “foremost Accountable University”—and he compels Connor to join his charge. Connor tries to unravel Sterling’s intentions with the help of Teresa Ramirez, a journalism professor with whom he enjoys an ill-defined romantic friendship. Author Charland has a gift for subtle satire, and he astutely exposes the comic absurdity that lies at the heart of the “rhetoric of bureaucrats”—especially the high-minded, academic variety. He’s a retired college professor, and he has a feel for the bizarre machinations of academia, showing them to employ a peculiar combination of intellectual power and administrative fecklessness. At the heart of the story is his grim but insightful diagnosis of the higher education industry, which he portrays as increasingly expensive but more incapable of fulfilling its mission. Overall, Charland’s satirical sendup is worth reading for its wry wit, but its unflinching but still-hopeful account of contemporary university life makes it memorable.

A buoyant farce that intelligently captures the current crisis of American higher education.

Pub Date: June 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-63293-231-0

Page Count: 216

Publisher: Sunstone Press

Review Posted Online: July 25, 2019

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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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