Monday, February 01, 2016

Cow Country, by Adrian Jones Pearson (pseud.)

The faculty of Cow Country, by Adrian Jones Pearson (pseud.), are supposed to be representative of faculty at many American colleges and universities.  Cow College is an extreme, though.  Barely solvent, struggling to recover accreditation approval it was denied a year ago, the College is torn by the whims of accreditors, donors, administrators, and faculty. Its main attraction is an archery and shooting range.  In tribute to the industry that supports the community of Cow College, a statue of a mating bull and heifer is the centerpiece of the campus.  While the surrounding country side is dried out desert—the word desiccated is repeatedly invoked as the novel moves along—the campus is lush and green, the irrigation system apparently paid for by the financial gifts of donors.

Like many campuses, this one is riven by rivalries, gossip, and intrigue.  The faculty is bitterly divided over the issue of whether to have a Christmas party.  At the start of the fall term, new faculty are entertained at two parties—the one they choose to attend confirms their political alliance—one party given by the vegetarian and earth shoe wing of the faculty, a tantric yoga session—and the other a beer guzzling barbecue. And someone secretly deposits the bloody scrota of a cow on the desks of faculty who have somehow transgressed codes of behavior that no one can identity. Bessie, a secretary, admits to having had four husbands and a thousand affairs.  The College president is one of her ex-husbands.

This novel is frequently funny, but its author didn’t know when to stop.  There are brilliant comic moments, and then there are other moments that go on and on and on.  Characters are given to endless monologues on esoteric subjects.  Their concerns often seem to have no relation to reality.  They’re just caught up in solipsistic self-absorption. Most of them, especially the main character and narrator, are more like cartoon caricatures than human beings.

This satiric novel targets issues that normally would interest only those who have been in a higher education environment for years--accreditation reviews, strategic plans, fundraising, faculty burnout, administrators without academic backgrounds, faculty entitlement: a history professor who smokes his cigar and swills his bourbon beneath a “No Smoking” sign in a faculty cafeteria, a creative writing professor who grooms his female students for sex, mathematics faculty who party wildly all semester.  What this novel best illustrates is the isolation of college campuses and faculty from reality.

Rumors to the contrary, this novel was not written by Thomas Pynchon.

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