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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.
Posted February 15, 2004
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 NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.