Publish and Perish: Three Tales of Tenure and Terror by James Hynes
This volume of three linked stories brings together academic settings and characters with creepy, fantastic events. In the first story, a cat threatens to reveal the affair jeopardizing the marriage of his owners, a pair of young PhDs separated by jobs at different schools. In the second, a disgraced anthropologist investigates a stone circle and participates in an ancient ritual. (This one reminded me somewhat of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.”) In the last story, which ties a couple connecting threads to the other two, a young professor gets cursed by a misogynistic old-guard academic who wants to plagiarize her work.
The academic setting creates some great moments of humor. I really enjoyed the chapter titles of Paul’s proposed volume of scholarship and the crazy conference scene. The intellectual pretensions of the characters and the pettiness and obscurity of their scholastic concerns create a fascinating contrast with the life-or-death situations that confront them. In a way, though, the “publish or perish” urgency is exactly what brings out the worst in the bad characters, especially when paired with misogyny. For example, Paul, the philandering husband, is fooling around because his pride is suffering to watch his career flounder while his wife’s takes off. But if anything, the academia depicted here is a lot less cutthroat and savage than reality. No one mentions student loans, for example. And there are characters here who have a chance at tenure before age 30, for God’s sake. What a dream.