First Jane Smiley came out of the comedy closet with Moo
, a campus satire par excellence, and now Richard Russo has gotten in on the groves-of-academe
game. Straight Man
is hilarious sport, with a serious side. William Henry Devereaux Jr., is almost 50 and stuck forever as chair of English at West Central Pennsylvania University. It is April and fear of layoffs--even among the tenured--has reached mock-epic proportions; Hank has yet to receive his department budget and finds himself increasingly offering comments such as "Always understate necrophilia" to his writing students. Then there are his possible prostate problems and the prospect of his father's arrival. Devereaux Sr., "then and now, an academic opportunist," has always been a high-profile professor and a low-profile parent.
Though Hank tries to apply William of Occam's rational approach (choose simplicity) to each increasingly absurd situation, and even has a dog named after the philosopher, he does seem to cause most of his own enormous difficulties. Not least when he grabs a goose and threatens to off a duck (sic) a day until he gets his budget. The fact that he is also wearing a fake nose and glasses and doing so in front of a TV camera complicates matters even further. Hank tries to explain to one class that comedy and tragedy don't go together, but finds the argument "runs contrary to their experience. Indeed it may run contrary to my own." It runs decidedly against Richard Russo's approach in Straight Man, and the result is a hilarious and touching novel.
--This text refers to the
From Library Journal
William Henry Devereaux Jr. finds himself past midlife, chair of the English department at an academic backwater, not having produced a book in 20 years, embroiled in departmental politics, maybe about to lay off colleagues, maybe on the block himself. Much goes wrong, much of it hilarious. An insulted poet, for instance, smacks him with her notebook, the spiral binding of which pierces his nose, so that, sneezing, he sprays his white-suited boss with blood. Still, his relationships with his father, wife, daughter, and students occupy most of his time, until one day, wearing fake nose, glasses, and mustache, he threatens on TV to kill one of the campus ducks every day until his departmental budget is finalized, making the national morning talk shows. Pitched a couple notches more manic than Jon Hassler's otherwise similar Rookery Blues (LJ 4/15/96), this raises the usual questions about abridgments: Who is this character? Was that a reference to something excised? Nevertheless, this recording, aided by Hal Linden's bemused delivery, should enjoy the same popularity as the book.?John Hiett, Iowa City P.L.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.
--This text refers to the