Amy Pratt's Reviews > Straight Man

Straight Man by Richard Russo
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May 01, 12


This is a book about many things, but the subject is life in academia and if you are at all familiar with that I think it is a must read. Russo captures the hilarity and the pathos of this world. He is best at character and there are wonderful characters here, familiar and yet wholly themselves, shallow and deep in very realistic ways. The meaning of college is changing these days as corporate mentality infiltrates everything, and the humanities in particular are in crisis. The story opens with rumors of downsizing which triggers a paranoia even more intense than is usual for the types drawn to this kind of work; high-strung, insecure and often narcissistic, the threat of change brings out the worst and the best. Havoc is unleashed when the acting chair of the department, who needs a budget in order to reassure his teaching staff of their positions for the next year, threatens to kill the ducks who live on the campus pond, one a day for every day he is denied the information. This is funny, and the book is a comedy, but it is laced with much darkness which adds to how true it feels.
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