Sunday, September 11, 2005

Campus Satire

It occurred to me recently that I’ve read more about Randall Jarrell than I’ve read of Randall Jarrell. This is just wrong, so I’ve set about rectifying the situation. I have a weakness for campus novels, so I’m beginning with Pictures from an Institution. This pithy description (excerpted from the NYTBR) appears on the back cover: “This is a searching novel about a mean lady novelist writing a mean novel about a college where she is spending a year teaching creative writing.” It sounds so promising but in the early going I’m a bit disappointed. There are some wickedly funny bits, but so far it reads more like a satirical essay than a satirical novel. I suppose satire always has a distancing effect, but I’d still like to be able to enter into the fictional world more fully than the narrative has allowed thus far. I will persevere though. In the meantime, here’s a passage that made me chuckle:

But Dwight Robbins; President Robbins, that is; the President, that is -- the President interested Gertrude. She realized, suddenly, that she was no longer between novels. She looked at the President as a weary, way-worn diamond-prospector looks at a vein of blue volcanic clay; she said to herself, rather coarsely -- Gertrude was nothing if not coarse: “Why girl, that Rift’s loaded.” How can we expect novelists to be moral, when their trade forces them to treat every end they meet as no more than an imperfect means to a novel?

Suddenly the committee meeting that I’m scheduled to attend tomorrow seems less of an obligation than an opportunity…

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