Too Cool for School

by Michael Potemra

Mark Falcoff is of course best known as a scholar of Latin-American affairs, but he has recently turned his hand to fiction: He has published a novel about the dysfunctional culture of academia. The book, A Season in Utopia, is set at a fictional university in the Pacific Northwest in the early 1970s, but some of the dynamics it describes ring true for universities in any part of the United States, at any time over the past few decades. I am perhaps not the most impartial person to ask about this book — I have a longstanding bias against the culture of academia, so Falcoff is certainly preaching to the choir with me — but I will say that the jacket copy is entirely correct when it says, “Anyone who thinks his or her life would have been happier as a college professor needs to read this book.”

While the culture the novel describes is a sad one — especially in a subplot involving Vietnam-era left-wing political violence — the book is not devoid of hope: The life of the mind endures and thrives, Falcoff points out in his final pages, just not in some of the places that proclaim themselves its privileged custodians.