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Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz
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Apr 27, 09

Read in April, 2009

Definitely this season's must read for the parents of college bound students. Sense of humor or ironic detachment suggested.

Should Admission have been titled Admissions? I think so. But the conceit behind the title refers to Princeton University’s Admission Office. The nuances of “Admission Office” vs. “Admissions” and “College of Art and Science” versus “Arts and Sciences” or even “Arts and Science” may be distinctions too fine for most of us but careful readers may find these disagreements absorbing, at least until the novel is over!

For a member of the staff of Princeton's Admission Office, Portia Nelson the academic year follows a strict arc from recruitment through admission to enrollment of the next year's freshman class.A Dartmouth College graduate, Portia Nathan now lives in Princeton with her companion of 16 years, a British English professor. A counter-cultural childhood, raised by her proudly single parent mom and her female circle in Northampton, Massachusetts has left Portia reeling, seeking calm and stability but most of all calm on the fringe of the action, as a watcher, satisfied by working as a gatekeeper in a contemporary circle of hell worthy of a modern Dante.

The task of finding ideal candidates for the University is the conceit explored by the author. Is there an ideal applicant? How has that notion changed over time in the United States and United Kingdom? How has the institutional relationship between the university and secondary school evolved? What is the duty of the university to its alumni and benefactors? Is social engineering the duty of the recruiters? And, to harken back to a term coined by Michael Young in his seminal work, "Meritocracy", what is merit understood to mean and how is it assessed in this time of MCCP (multi-criteria choice processes) which defy algorthims?

Please compare the experience of reading this novel to the consumption of a food or beverage. I would suggest a frothy cappuccino mushroom soup: a contemporary presentation of a classic mushroom soup, blending the natural love for reading, which has characterized civilized people for millennia with a forthy tale of recent child rearing and social fashions. Definitely a superior skewer of contemporary mores as were Brideshead Revisited and The Glittering Prizes.

Note: Michael Young’s son, Toby has gained notoriety for "How to Lose Friends and Alienate People." Hanff is a cousin of Helene Hanff.
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