Tag Archives: universities

*** Fall of Angels by Barbara Cleverly

Fall of Angels opens dramatically, with a young female trumpet player falling spectacularly (and suspiciously) to a bruised but happily non-dead state. Inspector Redfyre is on the premises, lured by a free ticket his aunt gave him. So he starts investigating, and in due course more young women turn up dead in 1920s Cambridge (England), prompting panic and a renewed urgency to the investigation, which seems to yield many secrets but not many tangible clues.

The plot is satisfyingly twisted but what made the book for me were the many comments about the effects of WWI, rules of etiquette, the misogynistic practices of the university (no degrees for women!), and early feminist efforts. The story brings to mind Gaudy Night, but in a more modern and utterly enjoyable form.

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Filed under Mystery

* Immigrant, Montana

Are you interested in the lives of foreign Humanities doctorate students slaving as teaching assistants? Think lots of big ideas, lots of sex and especially thoughts about sex, culture shock, infatuation with various professors — and not much action towards theses of anything else that could be construed as constructive. (I’m not commenting on humanities doctorate students per se, but rather on the book). My eyes glazed over as I read Immigrant, Montana.

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*** The Man Without a Shadow by Joyce Carol Oates

The Man Without a Shadow is an amnesiac, abundantly studied by the heroine, a neuroscientist whose professional fame comes from her exceptional subject. Many professional boundaries are crossed, and in any case the line between studying and exploiting is very porous.

I thought that the author captured in fine and interesting details the travails of the dedicated female scientist in a hostile time and place. The vagaries of memory are also explored in compelling and disturbing ways. The story moves slowly and the end is disappointing, but it lingers in the reader’s brain.

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** Stoner by John Williams


Stoner is the story of William Stoner, a lonely professor at a small midwestern university, estranged from his parents back at the family farm, married to a harpy, and unable to play the basic political games required to thrive in the English department. Of course it will not end well. The quiet narrative matches the hero’s quiet life and we get to inhabit his mind. Sadly, the character of his wife makes no sense. I could maybe see what he saw in her: beauty, the belonging to the educated class he was craving for, but what would she see in him?  It spoiled the story for me.

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** The Price of Silence by William Cohan


In The Price of Silence: The Duke Lacrosse Scandal, the Power of the Elite, and the Corruption of Our Great Universities, the author meticulously reconstructs the 2006 scandal when lacrosse players at Duke University were accused of raping a stripper they had hired for a boozy party, only to be exonerated, months later. He shows how the (mostly white) university’s fraught relationship with the (mostly African-American) city of Durham and its hands-off treatment of the sports teams (some would even say that the athletic directors set their own rules within the university) collided with a politically hungry district attorney who pressed charges that should not have been, charges that fanned protests by Duke faculty, students, and the general public, only to be withdrawn or disproved down the road.

If your idea of a good book is the day-by-day account of events, told several times, from several perspectives, and the line-by-line reading of interview and court case transcripts, you will be in heaven. Me, not so much! What I found fascinating is how this obvious legal error played out against rich, entitled young men, whose parents seem as concerned about a game being cancelled (hello! under-age players getting drunk and hiring strippers, let alone, perhaps assaulting them, are probably breaking the rules of conduct of the university, don’t you think?) as to whether they will be allowed to graduate in time to start their well-paid jobs on Wall Street. And these young men got millions of dollars from the university for the way they were treated. They were treated badly, no question, but millions? One cannot help but wonder about unjustly incarcerated individuals (of different colors and classes) who get a pittance when finally freed…

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** The Black Hour by Lori Rader-Day


In The Black Hour, a college professor is shot by a student who then kills himself. As she slowly recovers she wants to learn more about what happened and finds a very twisted story. I loved the way the author describes the closed-bowl environment of the small liberal arts college where the action takes place, with its incestuously small faculty and student groups, and its politics of tenure, course assignments, and departmental budgets . The heroine’s complicated struggles with independence, professional success, and friendships are also well captured. The action stalls in parts and the harrowing final scenes are just a little hard to believe — but I would recommend the book for its unusual heroine and unexpected ending.

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* Harvard Square by Andre Aciman


Harvard Square is a novel that reads like a book-length reminiscence of living as a graduate student of English in Harvard in the 1970s. The initial setup (a college visit with the narrator’s son) is awkward; the narrative is boring, in a “you should have been there but you were not” sort of way; and the lamentations of the hero (the worst day of his life is the day before his Ph.D. comprehensive exams, as he has frittered away his time and finds himself un-ready, poor dear) eye-rolling. There is an intriguing character, it must be said, who is not the narrator-hero but rather his unlikely cabbie friend with a shadowy past and present, but even he seems rather overdone and could not redeem the book for me.

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