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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

LAST ORDERS

Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 39

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2020

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in White society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so Black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her White persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

Did you like this book?

more