A sociologist’s controversial first book and the debate over who gets to speak for whom.
On mathematical shapes and family ruptures.
The rise and fall of “America’s most exciting black scholar.”
On the way to a reading, an academic stumbles into a mysterious infrastructure.
"For some reason he couldn’t put his finger on he was feeling happy. Naturally it had been a relief to come in out of the rain—though this particular brand of happiness seemed unrelated to anything as simple as relief. No, there was something about being in the tunnel that was making him feel very happy, almost ecstatically so. Against the wall just inside the door someone had arranged cleaning implements—several brooms, a bucket with a mop in it, a pile of rags—but other than that the tunnel was empty. The walls at this end had been painted with the green, glossy paint beloved of institutions the world over, the paint having been applied in what seemed like a spirit of gay abandon. The smooth concrete floor was splashed with it, and it depended in hardened drips from a series of thin pipes running lengthwise along the ceiling."
A story of bird and human patterns.
"Rose is nothing without him because difference defines everything. The eyes of the Cooper’s hawk are closer to the front of the head than the sharp-shinned hawk. The downy woodpecker’s bill is small relative to its head while the hairy woodpecker’s bill is long and thick. House finches are more slender than purple finches. When she finds his hairs scattered on the pillow, they are straight, black pins while hers are bright, red commas."
A surreal college campus beset by stabbings and other hijinx.
"It’s also not long before Dean Nelson is stabbed through the eye and killed by his secretary who claims never left her desk all day. Except security footage shows her ogling pencils she was sharpening right before carrying them menacingly into Nelson’s office. No amount of rug-sweeping will spin this."
Cemetery field recordings reveal terrifying audio messages.
"One night, listening back, she heard the crunch of shovelling. Nothing to worry about, the priest said. Simply gravediggers. She had not realised the cemetery still bore room for fresh dead; she imagined dough cut to the shape of the cemetery and a coffin-shaped cookie cutter pressed into it to calibrate the number of remaining graves."
On Leon Botstein and the future of Bard College, which he has run for four decades.
An excerpt from Goebel's novel: a man's strange world of peyote, addiction, family, and conflicting identities.
"I dropped tobacco from a cig I took apart and kept the loose stuff in my palm, and I circled the tree counter clockwise, like the turn of the earth, and dropped the tobacco staring up in the tree and praying, like an old wide-faced (I)ndian showed me to do in rehab in the snow in Minnesota around a big oak tree, horses in the field of night, snowflakes falling like drunks, like a dream, stars holy above, and as I finished dropping the last speck, finishing a circle around the ponderosa, praying for the old man in the Upper East Side to have, there it was, standing up in a rich grass, by its quill, right out of the ground. Get it? EAGLE FEATHER. This is a wild trip."
An academic marriage dissolves into a grotesque, demeaning power trip.
"I had always loved Olivia’s fearless and outspoken brilliance. It was one of the things that first attracted me to her—along with her perfect bubble butt and sailor’s laugh. But I suspected she didn’t honestly believe what she said about Dickinson’s poetry. Sometimes, especially after multiple martinis, one or the other of us would find the slightest reason to engage in some sort of verbal jousting. It was the manifestation of a lot of other problems we had buried over the past five years of marriage. We had both been divorced, both had children, both were in our forties, both should have understood the tensions of remarrying in mid-life. And we both should have known how alcohol—which we loved and self-medicated with—was the match that lit the fuse to these confrontations every time."
A woman's sexual, educational, and career developments; NSFW.
"She spent many an hour in the presence of those adult models during various parties. Gin and tonic in hand to ward off the bong and tabs of Ecstasy and acid, she sat in a side chair listening to indie rock bands (Morphine was a favorite) or death metal as the mood struck surrounding male minds, and she studied the women. The pictorials always ended with the women’s legs spread or mouths wide open with questing tongues, although faces were not a necessity in certain periodicals. In the spread-leg scenario, the women used long, pointed acrylic fingernails, usually painted a harsh red or cotton-candy pink, to open themselves for optimal viewing. The effect, to Susannah’s eye, was that of a newborn marsupial ripped from the pouch and pinned for display like a reluctant specimen in a Victorian curiosity cabinet."
A disenchanted academic attends a wedding.
"In the mail, you receive one letter. In between walking the Labrador retriever, attending meetings, and planting trees in disadvantaged parks, a friend has found the time to get engaged. You are invited to the wedding. You are not sure how you feel about this or whether you will have the emotion to attend. Lately, you are forgetting what it is like to be human. Someone has replaced your body with a poor working contraption. It comes upon you when you are wound up in the phone cord, fumbling in your pockets for the sympathy you used to think you had. Who is this new cruel person who listens to the exploits of kittens and puppies like a broker making transactions on the stock market? Your friends are concerned. Somehow, you have forgotten what it is like to be around other people. Your psychiatrist says it comes from a lifetime of observing people and never interacting, but you also suggest it has something to do with spending inordinate amounts of time with dead philosophers in an academic environment."