When Professor Lauren Goldberg drops dead in her windowless office, her job in the English department (a line item in the budget) is up for grabs. Her opportunistic colleagues eye this nifty nugget, snub any dignified lull for the obsequies, and begin at once to tussle.
In this incisive comic novel about job scrambling in academe Sondra Spatt Olsen exposes the messiness in an urban university of the mid-eighties, a time of hefty budget cuts, occupational instability, Machiavellian stratagems, and scholastic angst. Signs of breakdown are ubiquitous. Hallways are dark, classrooms are cold, and chalk is scarce.
Who will win Lauren's post? None of the posturing candidates is a shoo-in. All jostle for favor, money, power, and prestige. Cherry Binder, the department's popular feminist scholar, has been bringing her infant to class and breast-feeding in the office. In an endless, shameful quest to nail down his tenure Brian McGlinchee has forged his student-evaluation forms. Moreover, he is having an affair with one of his students. Nor could George Reilly, the department's playboy and the late Lauren's lover, be earmarked as a stable candidate. He goes bonkers at the memorial service. Steve Speck--young, naive, and introspective--is more interested in index cards and note topics than in his own promotion.
Added to this assorted cast of professorial misfits that keep the plot careening are a distinguished African American professor, a Russian poet, a beastly administrator, a crusty custodian, and the world's oldest graduate assistant.
Olsen's first book was praised by "Kirkus Reviews" as "a compelling collection, overall, by a lively and interesting writer" and by "Publishers Weekly" for its "cool, delicious irony." This new novel combines acidic wit, sharply drawn characters, a twisting plot line, emotional conflict, and a refreshing candor that ignites hilarity.
Sondra Spatt Olsen, a former lecturer at Queens College, CUNY, is the author of the short story collection "Traps," winner of the Iowa Short Fiction Prize. Her work has been published in the "New Yorker," "Iowa Review," "Yale Review," "Carolina Quarterly," and "Mississippi Review." She lives in New York City.
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