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Moo Paperback – February 24, 2009

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Editorial Reviews Review

The hallowed halls of Moo University, a midwestern agricultural institution (aka "cow college"), are rife with devious plots, mischievous intrigue, lusty liaisons, and academic one-upsmanship. In this wonderfully written and masterfully plotted novel, Jane Smiley, the prizewinning author of A Thousand Acres, offers a wickedly funny, darkly poignant comedy. A finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Effortlessly switching gears after the Pulitzer Prize-winning A Thousand Acres, Smiley delivers a surprising tour de force, a satire of university life that leaves no aspect of contemporary academia unscathed. The setting is a large midwestern agricultural college known as Moo U., whose faculty and students Smiley depicts with sophisticated humor, turning a gimlet eye on the hypocrisy, egomania, prejudice and self-delusion that flourish on campus-and also reflect society at large. Everybody at Moo U. has an agenda: academic, sexual, social, economic, political and philosophical. Among the more egregious types that Smiley portrays are Dr. Lionel Gift, an intellectual whore who calls students "customers" and is willing to skew research to further his name and line his pocketbook; Dr. Bo Jones, who is conducting a secret experiment on an appealing boar named Earl Butz (Earl and the horses on campus are nicer than the humans by a mile); and a superlatively bossy secretary who is a lot smarter than the Ph.Ds she serves. A chapter titled "Who's in Bed With Whom" clears things up in that department-but only temporarily, since musical beds is a continuous game. A quartet of women roommates who all hide secrets from each other, an unscrupulous "little Texan with jug ears" who wants to give the college tainted money, and a stuffy dean who thinks that anything he desires is God's will are some of the large cast of characters that Smiley manipulates with remarkable ease-and though some portrayals verge on caricature, she never goes over the line. Details of midwest topography, weather and culture are rendered with unerring authenticity. The narrative sails along with unflagging vigor and cleverness, and even the ironic denouement has an inevitability that Smiley orchestrates with hilarious wit. 100,000 first printing; BOMC selection; Random House Audio; author tour.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (February 24, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307472760
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307472762
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (126 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #343,796 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

40 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Christine McCullough on December 31, 1999
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Originally I was perplexed by the number of unhappy reviewers of this book, which I definitely enjoyed, but I think the reason is that Moo is not what the dust jacket makes it out to be. There is plenty of humor in this book, but it's mostly dry wit and wry situational irony-- there's not much laugh-out-loud material. In fact, some of the story lines (Dean and Joy's, for example) are downright depressing. The small army of charcacters takes some getting used to, but I didn't have trouble keeping track of them once they were established. It's true that some of them were not as well-developed as they could have been, but had they been, the book probably would have been another 300 pages. I think Smiley's intention was to give the widest, not deepest, possible portrait of university life. The fact that some of the characters are not fully developed helps her achieve that goal--at a big university, those not in one's immediate social circle are by necessity often perceived as "types" or character sketches, because there's no way you can fully understand the 35,000 other people around you. Keeping the characters lightly defined makes them both funnier and more authentic, in my opinion.
As it is, I think Smiley keeps the focus on the right characters. I understand the reviewers who wanted to see more of the students rather than the administrators and faculty, especially since I am a college student myself and could probably relate to their experiences more than those of the professors. But like I said-- I think Smiley's going for breadth, not depth. That said, I found some of the storyline resolutions unsatisfying. Some characters don't even seem to get a resolution in their stories, they just drop out of the novel 30 pages before it ends.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By on January 8, 1998
Format: Paperback
Don't be fooled by the title of the book; a pig named Earl Butz (ring any bells?)--is the literal and physical focus of this book. Earl is stowed away in the geographic center of the campus, Moo University, and those moving around him (students, faculty, etc), oblivious to his existence, nevertheless move in rhythm to him. When Earl escapes during the demolition of his home and dies, the campus is so affected that his picture on the front page of the newspaper affects everyone's life.
Everyone will recognize some familiar characters in this book. There are the four freshman girls living together--Mary, Keri, Sherri and Dianne--each of whom is drastically different, but borrows the others' clothes anyway. Then there's Bob Carlson, who doesn't know how to socialize with anyone but Earl Butz. Gary has a crush on his roommate's girlfriend and eavesdrops whenever they fight. English professor Tim can't keep his attention focused on any one woman long enough to establish a real relationship. The secretary to the Provost doesn't hide the fact that she controls EVERYTHING on campus and off, including her girlfriend Martha. Economics professor Lionel Gift believes he's God's gift to Costa Rica, as well as the rest of the world, often dropping the fact that he's in "some Rolodex" at the New York Times to impress people. One farmer, a frequent visitor to the provost, believes the FBI, the CIA and the big ag companies are out to get him, so he wears a bulletproof vest to protect himself.
These characters, weaved in and out of each other's lives, bring a rural campus to life with scandal, betrayal, but most of all, humor. Though Moo's huge cast can be confusing at times, it's a must-read for anyone in or graduated from college that never fails to bring a smile to your face.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Peggy Vincent on June 20, 2003
Format: Mass Market Paperback
How can the same author who wrote Thousand Acres flip into the voice behind Moo?? What a phenomenal talent...
Moo is a tour de force of satire on life at an agricultural university (known as Moo U., in the parlance) that scathingly leaves no cow pie unkicked. Smiley uses the hypocrisy, prejudice, and self-importance of the characters as a metaphor for our entire society. No one who reads this outrageous novel will ever forget Earl Butz, the Herculean pig that becomes such an obsession for more than one of the quirky characters that sometimes teeter on the edge of caricature. That quality and the fact that the whole charade seemed to go on about 100 pages too long is the only reason for 4 stars instead of 5.
A great book, nontheless.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 20, 2000
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Moo is Jane Smiley's terrific send-up of education, bureaucracy, racism, politics, love and just about everything else in the 1980s.
Set in a fictional Iowa university town, Moo U. is as much fun as a roller-coaster ride and features a cast of characters that are nothing short of hilarious. There is English professor, Tim Monahan, who is perpetually preoccupied with his always-imminent raise and promotion; provost Ivar Harstad, who is coping with the governor's cuts in university funding; and Bo Jones' secret experiment involving a hog named Earl Butz. Really!
And, it only gets better. There is Dr. Lionel Gift who gets hopelessly involved with a Texas billionaire named Arlen Martin. The two cook up a project to mine gold from the world's last virgin rainforest, a project that incurs the wrath Chairman X, a man so caught up in leftist ideology he forgets to marry the mother of his children...for more than twenty years. And best of all, there is Mrs. Walker, the plotting and conniving lesbian secretary to the provost who secretly runs everything at Moo U. with an iron hand.
If it seems like Smiley doesn't write much about education in this book about university life, then that's exactly right, for education has little to do with the day-to-day goings-on at Moo U. Moo U. and its cast of off-beat characters are really a microcosm of America under the Reagan Administration and Moo U. could be any university in the United States.
The only thing wrong with Moo is that, while it is supposed to be satire, it just misses the mark. Don't get me wrong, this is a hilarious book and a hilarious send-up, but I think true satire requires a harder heart than Smiley seems to have. The ending is a bit of a letdown, especially after the rollicking good ride Smiley has taken us on to get us there. Anyone who doesn't mind a bit of a letdown, however, will find Moo an enjoyable and hilarious book that makes fun of just about everything.
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