Thursday, October 2, 1997

Publish and Perish, by James Hynes

Originally published in The Minnesota Daily’s A&E Magazine,
October 2nd, 1997

By James Hynes
Picador, $24

Scholastic horror stories—why hasn’t anybody thought of doing this before? After all, what could be more terrifying than academia?

James Hynes’ new collection, Publish and Perish, comprises three novellas, each one scarier than a dissertation committee. The first story, “Queen of the Jungle,” tells the chilling tale of Paul, Elizabeth, and their cat, Charlotte. While Elizabeth is away at the University of Chicago, Paul has an affair with a flaky communications major, and Charlotte does her best to foil his dastardly plans for their family.

Sounds silly, and it is, but Hynes’ hilarious vision of academic life makes it stomachable. With Elizabeth schmoozing the tenure board at Chicago, Paul flounders on his unpublishable dissertation, writing such chapters as “Slouching Toward Minneapolis: William Butler Yeats, Mary Tyler Moore and the Millennium.”

The other two novellas, “99” and “Casting the Runes,” are successful in the same ways as “Queen of the Jungle”—and to the same extent. They’re all tightly written, funny, and scary as hell, but a horror story is still a horror story. Each tale follows a pattern of rising creepiness, with the reader figuring out if the protagonist deserves to survive, and then the climax passes final judgment on him or her.

It’s pretty straightforward stuff, but Hynes’ satires of academia can be breathtaking—literally. If Perish and Publish shocks at all, with its desperate doctoral candidates, disgraced theoreticians, and satanic tenure-dinosaurs, it shocks with recognition.

—David Wiley

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