J.A. Friedland is a Franco-American novelist who has taught at a number of American colleges. The author describes his novel as being “loosely autobiographical.” At times the book is engaging and amusing, and at other times it becomes bogged down in the author’s tendency to pontificate about today’s millennial college students and their professors.
Any reader who has taught during the last five or ten years will find sections that will resonate with their own experiences. The description of the author’s introductory class lecture is particularly amusing. Friedland nails the millennial students’ endless questions about grading, assignments, and class responsibilities. His discussions of today’s student use of cell phones and laptops will certainly ring a bell with college professors. So will his discussions of his academic colleagues and their interactions at faculty meetings. For example, discussing one colleague, he says, “Somehow she always finds a way to beat her last praise-per-minute record.”
It isn’t all fun, games, and satire however. His description of fraternities and their attitudes towards women and rape are timely and disturbing. These discussions are somewhat contradicted by the main character’s own behavior, when after a semester of continuous flirting, he finally beds his favorite student. The fact that he waited until the end of the semester when she is no longer in his class doesn’t entirely reassure the reader about his own motives and behavior. Although the power relationships between students and professors in the book don’t rise to the level of rape, they do not exactly paint the best impression of our sometimes-moralistic hero.
Although the author mostly depicts the year when Professor Jules Stern is up for tenure, he expends little effort in describing the nature of that process. That would have seemed an excellent vehicle for further parody and satire. The readers most likely to enjoy this book are those who have taught at the college level. Those who have not experienced that life will probably find much of the book puzzling or even a bit dull.
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