21 December 2007

Fun, spooky, intelligent, and disposable

Publish and Perish: Three Tales of Tenure and Terror
James Hynes
Picador, 1998

Publish and Perish
comprises three creepy novellas, all involving professional academics with roots in the University of the Midwest in Hamilton Groves, MN. Each tale is a spooky satire on the cut-throat intrigues that characterize contemporary academe. "Queen of the Jungle" deals with the unusual fallout from a career-driven commuter marriage, including marital infidelity, feline incontinence, and gypsy mysteries, but it does so without providing one likable character. "99" (which begins on page 99---talk about good typesetting!) relates the misadventures of one Gregory Eyck, an arrogant and downwarly mobile cultural anthropologist (with tenure!) who inadvertantly ends up doing fieldwork on neo-pagan sacrifice---from the inside. Though the story was fun, it was definitely derivative of the classic novel and film "The Wicker Man." The last, longest, and arguably best story, "Casting the Runes," is based upon names and ideas in the M.R. James ghost story of the same name. In it a young postmodern historian fights not only for tenure, but for her very life, against an eldritch elder professor who will stop at nothing to maintain his career. All in all a fun, spooky, intelligent, but disposable read.

(This review was originally written on October 3, 2006.)

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