From Kennedy (An Introduction to Fiction, 2014) comes a novel about life at a peculiar Catholic college in New Jersey.
Now that World War II has ended, thousands of former soldiers are able to attend college on the GI Bill. Looking to make the most of the situation, St. Cassian of Imola decides it will “become the largest Catholic college east of the Mississippi.” Filling faculty positions with displaced persons and Quonset huts with students, the college makes ambitious if hasty plans. Weathering the storm is one Father Douglas Knox, a priest with a knack for karate and a love of Gauloise cigarettes. He also coaches the basketball team despite death threats recommending he do otherwise. With many of the school’s dealings linked to mobster Ricky Peru, Knox has his suspicions about who might be behind it all. Meanwhile, a boy nicknamed Moon—“Somebody in high school said I looked like Moon Mullins in the funnypapers”—finds himself in love with his beautiful, sex-crazed biology teacher, Aisling Vastasi. Though he’s warned not to go near her, as she’s married to one of Peru’s lackeys, Moon can’t resist. With these and other equally colorful characters set to collide, possibilities for excitement abound. There’s plenty of sassy dialogue—as when Aisling informs her biology class, “I used to be a second lieutenant in the WAVES, so don’t think you can get away with any happy horseshit”—and randiness: “Scrotum Pohl lay naked on the bed, his six-foot-eight body rippling with muscle, skin shining with massage oil.” The wonky adventure is at its sharpest when following rough-and-tumble Father Knox, as if he’s traversing a comically scripted film noir. However, the book falls into stereotypes with much of the opposition. Ricky Peru owns not only a black Rolls Royce with vanity plates, but also the well-preserved “Pizza of Paramus,” a pie that has cheese melted into the shape of the Virgin Mary: “The Virgin had a pepperoni mouth.” While distracting, the clichés don’t derail the overall quirkiness of this raucous tale.
Wacky while paying close attention to storyline, making for a strange caper indeed.