Roger Rosen­blatt
  • Review
By – January 9, 2012
Few social enclaves lend them­selves so well to satire as those of the uni­ver­si­ty elite, and one need only look as far as Roger Rosenblatt’s new nov­el Beet and Michael Blumenthal’s rere­leased Wein­stock Among The Dying to expe­ri­ence the rich pos­si­bil­i­ties with­in this genre. In Rosenblatt’s Beet, Eng­lish and Amer­i­can lit­er­a­ture pro­fes­sor Peace Porter­field is attempt­ing to save the near­ly bank­rupt Beet Col­lege from cor­rup­tion, incom­pe­tence, and apa­thy. Among those respon­si­ble for has­ten­ing Beet’s down­fall are Joel Bollo­vate, the dis­hon­est chair of the Board of Trustees, who has mis­used the endow­ment, and Matha Polite, the pre­co­cious stu­dent poet, South­ern belle, and ridicu­lous­ly mis­guid­ed leader of a rad­i­cal stu­dent group. While most of the fac­ul­ty is amus­ing­ly pre­sent­ed as a group far more inter­est­ed in their spe­cial­ized hob­by-hors­es than in sav­ing the school, Peace Porter­field is dif­fer­ent. Peace is a throw­back to the ide­al of the 1960’s lib­er­al arts pro­fes­sor, deeply invest­ed in his stu­dents’ edu­ca­tion, even as they attempt to bring down the uni­ver­si­ty by tak­ing part in ill-advised protests. Rosen­blatt pro­vides plen­ty of side-split­ting moments through­out, includ­ing the tale of Beet’s hum­ble begin­ning as a 17th cen­tu­ry pig farmer’s char­i­ta­ble project, and ref­er­ences to an increas­ing­ly trendy set of course offer­ings, such as Humor and Mete­o­rol­o­gy” and Ser­i­al Killers of the North­west.” 

While Beet explores the uni­ver­si­ty through Porterfield’s strug­gles, Michael Blumenthal’s Wein­stock Among the Dying begins with a broad overview of the acad­e­my, and grad­u­al­ly focus­es in on the aging nar­ra­tor, Mar­tin Wein­stock. Wein­stock, a poet and up-and-com­ing cre­ative writ­ing pro­fes­sor at Har­vard, is haunt­ed by thoughts of death and by a fam­i­ly his­to­ry he can­not shake. He tells his sto­ry in a dis­cur­sive, orig­i­nal style, with fre­quent flash­backs and inci­sive lit­er­ary puns and ref­er­ences. Many chap­ters even deft­ly invoke the works of Sopho­cles, Keats, or Shake­speare, as Wein­stock attempts to fit his tri­als into the West­ern lit­er­ary canon. In some ways, Wein­stock Among the Dying calls to mind the arche­typ­al cam­pus nov­el — a male professor’s bum­bling attempts to man­age mul­ti­ple stu­dent love inter­ests while also vying for tenure — but Blu­men­thal advances the form by cross-weav­ing the cam­pus tale with that of Weinstock’s intro­spec­tive memoir.

Addi­tion­al Book Fea­tured in Review

Phil Sandick is a grad­u­ate of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia and the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wis­con­sin-Madi­son. He has taught cours­es in lit­er­a­ture, com­po­si­tion, and cre­ative writ­ing since 2006. Phil is cur­rent­ly study­ing rhetoric and com­po­si­tion at the Uni­ver­si­ty of North Car­oli­na-Chapel Hill.

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