Beet (P.S. Series)

Beet (P.S. Series)

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by Roger Rosenblatt

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Roger Rosenblatt’s dazzling comic gifts are on enviable display....Beet will settle the issue: is Roger Rosenblatt our most audacious comic visionary,or our most audacious visionary comic?”—Joyce Carol Oates

Beet College is doomed...and nobody really cares. The Board of Trustees, led by developer Joel Bollovate, has squandered the

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Roger Rosenblatt’s dazzling comic gifts are on enviable display....Beet will settle the issue: is Roger Rosenblatt our most audacious comic visionary,or our most audacious visionary comic?”—Joyce Carol Oates

Beet College is doomed...and nobody really cares. The Board of Trustees, led by developer Joel Bollovate, has squandered the endowment. Debutante-cum-self-styled-poet Matha Polite, an indiscriminate radical with a four-student following, wants to bring the institution down. Sweet-tempered terrorist hopeful Akim Ben Ladin (né Arthur Horowitz) sits in his off-campus cave and dreams about blowing Beet up. Faculty members are too busy concocting useless, trendy courses to do anything about it. Not to mention that American higher education is going down the tubes, one less lesser school isn’t going to matter. So why is Professor Peace Porterfield trying to save Beet? Beats us.

“Rosenblatt [applies] his sharp wit to elite education.”—Wall Street Journal

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Editorial Reviews

New York Sun
“This is Mr. Rosenblatt’s first novel. I hope it’s not his last.”
Entertainment Weekly
“[An] uproarious debut…. Rosenblatt wields his satiric saber with skill and compassion. A-.”
Ron Charles
…an academic satire greased by the kind of insight and rage that could come only from enduring a thousand stultifying faculty meetings…Of course, the litter of academic satires is already very large. After classics from Kingsley Amis, Vladimir Nabokov, Malcolm Bradbury, Mary McCarthy, Richard Russo, Jane Smiley, Tom Wolfe and others, Beet doesn't break any new ground, but it certainly holds its own in this well-furrowed field. Again and again, I wanted to call up old colleagues still toiling away in the groves of academe and tell them about hysterical moments in this book.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

The politically correct, rigorless American university is by now an easy comic target, one that cultural critic Rosenblatt (Lapham Rising), longtime contributor to Timeand PBS's NewsHour, hits amusingly. Rosenblatt's Beet College is an old money New England university where students can major in such disciplines as Postcolonial Women's Sports and Little People of Color. But dear ol' Beet is going bust. The endowment's vanished and the chairman of the board of trustees, Joel Bollovate, is a paragon of anti-intellectualism. He's also a real estate developer with his greedy eye on the choice campus land. Peace Porterfield, professor of English, is charged with coming up with a new curriculum-one that will attract more students, more grants and more alumni gifts-or else Beet is beat. Arrayed against Professor Porterfield's honest efforts are the inept faculty on his committee as well as foulmouthed undergrad poet Matha Polite and her confused band of radicals. With plenty of chuckles along the way, Rosenblatt elucidates the grim shift universities have made toward the business model, where the president is CEO, the professors dunderheaded grant grubbers and the students mindless consumers. (Feb.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

Prestigious Beet College is about to close. Its endowment has mysteriously disappeared, leaving it with only tuition to support its programs. In the 1990s, Beet added trendy disciplines such as Native American crafts and casino studies, yet students are dissatisfied. Faculty can't do or say anything without offending someone. The chairman of the Board of Trustees wants the land on which the college sits for his real estate empire. Professor Peace Porterfield, the last ethical and imaginative teacher of English in higher education, is selected to chair a committee to revamp the college's curriculum, with two months to accomplish this task. Meanwhile, students go about their business: attending classes, joining protests, building bombs, and hacking computer systems. In a frenzy of plots and subplots, all working at cross-purposes, the truth surfaces, the endowment is recovered, and liberal arts education lives on. In his second novel, Rosenblatt (after Lapham Rising) creates a satire about higher education that would be hilarious if it didn't come quite so close to the truth. The essence of college life taken to the extreme will make readers laugh out loud. Recommended.
—Joanna M. Burkhardt

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
P.S. Series
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Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)

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Chapter One

"Don't bother to come home if you still have a job," Livi Porterfield called to her husband as he hustled their two groggy children into the 243,000-miles-and-still-rattling Accord, to drive them to school. He blew her a kiss.

The job she referred to was on the faculty of Beet College, forty miles north of Boston, where eighteen hundred handpicked, neurotically competitive undergraduates were joined with one hundred and forty-one handpicked, neurotically competitive professors to instruct them. Beet was a typical small New England college, fortified with brick and self-regard—the sort of place people call charming when they mean sterile.

There Peace Porterfield, the youngest full professor in the school's history, taught English and American literature—which is ordinarily enough to mark a person for disaster. If that didn't do the trick, he also believed in what he did, being committed to an academic discipline said to have exhausted both its material and its usefulness, and patronized by institutions of higher learning like a doddering tenant no longer able to come up with the rent. And if those things didn't do him in, he believed in the value of a liberal arts education, and in colleges in general, from whose sacred waters, he further believed, civilization flowed. Need one glaze the duck? He believed in civilization.

The same may not be said of the redhead knockout Olivia Weissman-Kelleher Porterfield, M.D., Peace's wife of thirteen years and mother of Beth and Robert, their bellicose progeny of nine and seven. Livi had the face and temperament of a despotic ingénue. While she gave anoccasional nod to civilization, she thought of colleges and universities as—how did she put it?—fucked up beyond belief.

She waved good-bye and wished him "Bad luck, Candide!"—what she called him when she was especially exasperated by his even temper. He needled her by adopting the nickname.

Voltaire probably pictured someone like Peace. Eyes as blue as daylight, hair the color of damp sand that flapped over his forehead. Six foot one, give or take. An athlete's careful lope. And a stoic expression, created and often tested by the name his 1960s generation parents had burdened him with. His less respectful sister Love, a parole officer in Newark, legally changed her name to Athena. Peace was more naturally serene, which came in handy at times as tense as these.

And why were these times tense? Because the board of trustees of Beet College was threatening to shut the place down. Since eight o'clock that morning, they had been meeting in the Temple, the imitation Parthenon atop College Hill, under the leadership of Joel Bollovate (known as "the man in the iron belly" to his colleagues, competitors, and to his family as well), chairman of the board and CEO of Bollocorps, the largest developer in five of the six New England states. And why close the college? Because Chairman Bollovate reported that Beet's $265 million endowment had been reduced to nothing, and the school was going broke.

"Jesus, Mary, and Moses!" Livi would say as often as she could. "A two-hundred-and-fifty-year-old American institution down the toilet in three short years. The Bollovate legacy."

Livi lacked what is known as the patience of a saint. When the Porterfields had first arrived at Beet, she could find no openings nearby in her specialty in hand surgery, and was forced to cool her heels working in the ER at Boston North. That diversion, she hoped, would be as short-lived as her husband's employment. She looked for any opportunity to free her family from what she called "the graves of academe."

But she was right about Beet's distinguished place in American history. Given every advantage at its birth in 1755, the college profited from the shortcomings of institutions of higher learning that had preceded it. Harvard College was founded in 1636, but in 1718, at the urging of Cotton Mather (whose urgings were rarely ignored), a group of New England conservatives who felt Harvard's standards were slipping decided to found Yale. A few years later another group, who felt Yale's standards were slipping, decided to found Princeton (1746). Not long after that yet another group, detecting more slippage still, created the University of Pennsylvania (1749), then Columbia (1754), until the groups of roving college founders felt standards had slipped so much and so rapidly, they could no longer find them. It was around that time Beet came into being.

That was thanks to a gift of Nathaniel Beet (1660-1732), an American divine and the wealthiest pig farmer in the New England colonies. Beet bequeathed his library of one hundred books (half on religion, half on animal husbandry) and his pigs, which were of much greater dollar value, to establish a "Collegium for Young Men in the Service of Almighty God and Livestock"—thus the college motto, "Deus Libri Porci."

Beet was to be God's beachhead on a pagan continent, created to produce the sort of young man that England and her motley intermarrying kings and queens had failed to produce since 1066—a learned, ruthless Christian who knew the value of a penny. Small wonder Beet was where the term "capitalist pig" originated, though not as a pejorative.

"Love ya, Dad!" Beth and Robert shouted as Peace dropped them off, just before they shoved each other in the small of the back when Dad drove away. Then he too headed off to school, as he had done his whole life, from the age of three to thirty-six—St. Paul's, Harvard A.B., B.Litt (Oxon.), Harvard A.M., Ph.D.; a year teaching poor and neglected kids in Sunset Park, Brooklyn (where he and Livi met); his first job, at Yale: school, school, and more school.

He drove down the dirt road, which became the macadam road, which became Main Street of the town of Beet, and he winced. If the college closed, so would the town. Everything in it—the This Little Piggy Muncheonette with its . . .

Beet. Copyright © by Roger Rosenblatt. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Meet the Author

Roger Rosenblatt  is the author of six off-Broadway plays and eighteen books, including Lapham Rising, Making Toast, Kayak Morning and The Boy Detective. He is the recipient of the 2015 Kenyon Review Award for Literary Achievement.

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