The Handmaid of Desire

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Overview

L'Heureux, best known for his passionate novels of obsessive love and madness, breaks new ground in this clever comedy of contemporary manners, power, lust, babies, and money. As politicallt incorrect as they come, and full of human folly and fumbling sex, The Handmade of Desire has something to offend everyone.
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Overview

L'Heureux, best known for his passionate novels of obsessive love and madness, breaks new ground in this clever comedy of contemporary manners, power, lust, babies, and money. As politicallt incorrect as they come, and full of human folly and fumbling sex, The Handmade of Desire has something to offend everyone.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The absurdities of academe are a springboard for L'Heureux's 15th book, a wacky tale of lust, intellectual pretension, petty jealousy and divine intervention in the English department at a distinguished, but unnamed, Northern California University. When Olga Kominska, an enigmatic visiting professor, arrives to teach a seminar on Foucault and to begin work on her next novel, she encounters a department riven by sexual affairs, frustrated ambitions and bitter rivalries between young theorists and old formalists. Zachary Kurtz, the Machiavellian young Turk who lured Olga to the university, is plotting to overthrow the department of English and erect in its place a department of Theory and Discourse, where all texts will be studied "with absolute indifference to the author's reputation or the Western canon or the nature of writing itself." Yet the balance of power he seeks is in jeopardy: the ascendant chairman, Robbie Richter, who is Kurtz's pet, has a nervous breakdown; Tortorisi, a maladroit homunculus whom Kurtz despises, is writing a scathing roman clef about the department; Peter Peeks, a lithe, vacuous surfer who swears that "Foucault is a god" is on the make among the faculty; and virtually every young professor on staff is desperate for a baby. Olga faces such challenges with a novelist's aplomb. Mary Poppins-like, swooping down from on high with a preternatural charm that makes her everyone's confidante, she sets out to answer the prayers of her colleagues; the results, of course, are drolly disastrous. L'Heureux (The Shrine at Altamira), who teaches English at Stanford, offers a witty new spin on Foucault's notion of the death of the author. Yet his tone throughout is one of arch silliness, and his interest in character is coldly satirical, lending this book a smugness that makes it far less engaging than the academic spoofs by David Lodge or Jane Smiley to which it will no doubt be compared. (Sept.)
Library Journal
Aloof, sophisticated, and vaguely Eastern European, Olga Kominska arrives in California to teach theory at the University. Everyone has plans for her, from the powerful Zachary Kurtz, who would use her to help overthrow the English Department and replace it with a department of theory, to student Peter Peeks, who wants to take her Focault course and sleep with her (he only gets to do the latter). But Olga, a do-gooder at heart, has plans of her ownand her plans all come to fruition. Rather like a novelist crafting one of those despised creations that Kurtz dares to read only behind closed doors, Olga engineers new loves, new lives, and new babies for her colleagues. From fat Tortorisi to sycophantic Richter to ferocious lesbian Maddy, these are all wonderfully drawn. The result is a glorious put-down of academic pretension in today's postmodern world. This is an easy target to hit, and it's been hit before, but few writers have delivered such deft punches as L'Heureux (A Woman Run Mad, LJ 12/87). Would that Moo were half this funny. Highly recommended.Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal"
Kirkus Reviews
An intermittently droll send-up of the confusions and conceits of the intelligentsia and of academic life from Stanford professor L'Heureux, author of 14 previous novels (The Shrine at Altamira, 1992, etc.).

Olga Kominska, unlike most of her university colleagues, has a pretty clear mission in mind: "Her task was to rescue some lost souls from the effects of their scandals, satisfy a few passions, answer some importunate prayers, and, on the side, to teach a little course in feminist drama and another in literary theory." Although her origins are never made clear, Olga's European accent gives her a certain cachet within the very hip English department of a California university struggling to remake itself into an Institute of Theory and Discourse. Olga, above such petty strife, has higher goals in mind. When Robbie Richter, who built his career on a study of the hermeneutics of The Hardy Boys, suffers what everyone hopes will be his final nervous breakdown, Olga predicts his full recovery. The general astonishment at his revival turns to widespread awe when Richter not only resumes his teaching but transforms himself into a competent scholar. A succession of apparent miracles in which Olga seemingly has a hand ensues: A barren couple conceive, a creative-writing professor completes a readable novel, and a failed socialite becomes the hostess of a successful TV talk show. Although most normal people would want to find out just who Olga is and what kind of hat she pulls her rabbits from, the academics on whom she works her magic are too removed from reality to notice that its laws are being flouted and prefer to understand her according to the categories of Foucault and Derrida—which give them less than a clue. Within a world that has banished mystery from its precincts, L'Heureux suggests, there can be no explanations.

Witty and sharp, but not nasty enough for satisfying satire and too far-fetched for comedy. An in-house joke that won't play off campus.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781569471234
  • Publisher: Soho Press, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 7/1/2003
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.80 (d)

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 15, 2004

    Wicked and Fun

    As a former adjunct professor at a state college, I found this book to be a comfort. I realize now that I was not going crazy, but the world of higher education is as close to a collective meltdown as it can get. This was a lot of fun. Mary McCarthy's novel is a rich satire that ridicules university politics. Her main character, Olga Kominski, has walked into a web of absurdity that intwines the English Department.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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