Posts Tagged ‘James Hynes’

James Hynes delivers tart comedy-inflected horror with a trio of novellas in ‘Publish and Perish’

May 12, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
May 12, 2016

In the fiction of James Hynes, academic politics is the conduct of warfare by other means. Characters regularly pursue vendettas against rivals by inviting (or not inviting) certain people to meetings or by giving their comments scant consideration. Bureaucracy is used to crush the spirit of those who fail to distinguish themselves or to suck up to the people in power, and few accomplishments are more prized than securing tenure.

I stumbled upon Next, Hynes’s fourth novel, in a secondhand bookstore last year. Ever since, I’ve been working my way through Hynes’s oeuvre: Soon after I encountered Next, which was published in 2010, I read his third novel, The Lecturer’s Tale, published in 1997. Just this week, I read Publish and Perish, a trio of horror novellas involving American academics.

The first entry in Publish and Perish, “Queen of the Jungle,” is the volume’s weakest entry. This is not because of any flaw with the plot or the writing but because the main character, a career-minded English professor named Paul, is such a despicable heel.

Although he may once have genuinely loved his wife, Elizabeth, his ardor seems to have been entirely subsumed by his jealousy over the divergent paths their careers have taken. Paul’s once-promising dissertation, which he had hoped to parlay into a book, lies in tatters after having been shredded by a critic; he’s a departmental nonentity at the Iowa state university where he’s drearily finishing up a postdoctoral fellowship, and he has no clear notion of where he might go next. By contrast, Elizabeth has become a rising star at a prestigious university in Chicago after her own dissertation was published and unexpectedly won a major prize.

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When life gives you the (magic) finger: James Hynes ventures into a mixture of fantasy and academic satire in ‘The Lecturer’s Tale’

March 17, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
March 17, 2015

The Lecturer’s Tale, a 2001 novel by James Hynes, is a wicked academic satire about an English professor who becomes extraordinarily persuasive following an accident.

The story is set at the University of the Midwest, a public institution in the Minnesota town of Hamilton Groves. (The university and town are fictitious; the state of Minnesota apparently does exist.) Moments before the tale begins, the protagonist, Nelson Humboldt, has been released from his job as a visiting adjunct professor due to budgetary reasons. This appears to signal the ruination of a once-promising scholarly career; in a matter of weeks, the married father of two young daughters will lose his job, his health insurance and his eligibility to remain in faculty housing.

But then, as Humboldt walks across the university’s teeming quad at noon on Halloween, he stumbles and falls, losing his fingertip in the spokes of a passing bicycle. The finger is sewed back together, but it suddenly seems to have magical properties: When Humboldt touches another person with his fingertip and utters a command or suggestion, the other must obey his will.

The professor first uses his power — unintentionally — when Nelson and his wife, Bridget, encounter a noisy couple at a movie theater. Humboldt walks over to them and asks them not to talk; when they start to get up, he asks them to stay where they are.

As the lights came up after the movie, Nelson noticed that the middle-aged couple were glancing anxiously back at him. The man had his hands on his throat, and was making choking sounds. Nelson hurried down the aisle.

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Ripley and Terry: Stumbling upon another unexpected movie-making connection

February 13, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Feb. 13, 2015

Author’s note: I love finding connections between things, and I especially enjoy when my blog helps me stumble upon links. Here’s another instance of that. MEM

The other week, I went to a used bookstore and traded in some books and DVDs for different books and DVDs.

One of my new books was Next by James Hynes. I also got four movies in three DVD cases: A Will Smith science fiction action movie twofer containing Independence Day and I, Robot; the apocalyptic time-travel masterpiece 12 Monkeys; and Ripley’s Game, which is based on one of Patricia Highsmith’s novels.

As noted in my previous post, the script for Ripley’s Game was co-written by director Liliana Cavani with Charles McKeown. What I didn’t realize before I clicked on McKeown’s Internet Movie Database page was that he connects the last two movies that I wrote about on this blog.

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A day in the life: Modern Cubicle Man visits Texas and reminisces about his life in James Hynes’s ‘Next’

February 11, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Feb. 11, 2015

Next, a 2010 novel by James Hynes, conveys the thoughts and experiences of a middle-aged man over the course of a brief trip to Austin, Texas.

The book’s main character is Kevin Quinn, an academic editor at the University of Michigan who has spent his entire adulthood living and working in Ann Arbor. He’s traveled to Texas for a job interview with an outfit called Hemphill Associates. The company’s offer to pay for plane tickets for the journey surprised Kevin so much that he neglected to ask for a hotel, so Kevin is taking a day trip without any luggage whatsoever. During the few hours that he spends in the state capital, this man will spend a great deal of time reminiscing about his life and fretting about his future.

Many of Kevin’s musings revolve around women he has known. He’s dating a younger woman named Stella, who is also a tenant in his house. He met Stella a few years ago, after Beth, his longtime girlfriend, got pregnant by another man and moved out to have the family that Kevin would never agree to start with her.

When, sitting in a coffee shop with four hours to kill before his scheduled interview, Kevin sees the beautiful young woman who sat next to him on the flight down to Austin, he impulsively leaves the shop and begins trailing her. This woman, whom he initially knows only as Joy Luck (because she intently read Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club throughout the entire plane ride) becomes a sort of Beatrice to Kevin’s Dante for the early part of his journey through Austin.

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