Malcolm Wade is a man in trouble, as the protagonist of any decent novel should be. His soul mate has followed a new job and man to the opposite coast; his tenure is being called into question; his department chair is attempting to dump more classes on him, and his little sexual partner is vying for his job. Added to those woes, he now is expected, in his new counseling job for which he gave up teaching, to get to the bottom of a shooting that took place at a campus party, a task that brings him into conflict with various campus personalities.
The strength of the work is in its satire of college life: the personalities, politics, racism, sexual indiscretions, and obsession with football. The author lives in Northern California, and there are many references to local sports, such as the San Francisco 49ers, that will be of particular interest to those who follow sports in local sports. Another strength of the novel is Wade’s cynical voice and observations. He is also ultimately a likable character, the cynicism tempered with compassion and relative lack of racism, sexism, or classism in dealing with his students and peers. The prose and writing style are strong, some of the observations laugh-out-loud. The novel is followed with discussion questions and an author interview for book groups.
The plotline of the novel could use sharpening in places. I was pages into the book, wrapped up in Wade’s myriad difficulties and the technicalities of football and the personalities of its players, before I realized what the core plot problem is: the campus shooting Wade is supposed to be investigating. Two college football players, Wade’s campus wards he babysits, were in attendance. And then I was confused on that point as Wade is a teacher turned academic counselor. Certainly investigating a shooting is the role of a police detective, and the police are conspicuously absent in the matter. In the end, the question of what happened at the party is not as compelling as Wade, his troubles, and the delicious retribution of his tormentors that is overshadowed by tragedy at the end. Wade’s life blurs into the investigation he is implicated in. Wade is in a world and a profession where roles are blurred: students take on teacher duties; girlfriends morph into colleagues, and one’s students into one’s children—a world Wade is uniquely suited for navigating.