By P.F.Kluge '64
Kenyon loves its local fables and its turns on the larger literary stage. Now we have something of both in our very own murder mystery, thanks to P.F. Kluge '64, the College's writer-in-residence and a sometime critic of contemporary academe.
A serial killer is terrorizing a college campus, and it becomes clear that the murderer wants nothing less than to murder the college itself. Why? Just about everyone-suspects, investigators, profs, deans, and townies-has a lot to say about how a college could provoke such hatred and, by extension, what a college should be and whether today's colleges live up to their ideals.
The college whose spirit Kluge is testing in Final Exam doesn't have to be named. It happens to sit on a familiar hill in Ohio, with a walkway called Middle Path and place names like Kokosing and Philomathesian. One character, envisioning the school's demise, imagines that someday it will be known only as a trivia question or crossword puzzle clue: "dead college, six letters, begins with K."
The suspects? The three narrators of the novel-the college president, an English professor, and a campus cop-offer plenty of possibilities, from a student expelled for date-rape to a trustee with secretive land-development plans. Even the police investigator sent up from Columbus, it turns out, has reason to resent the college. At the heart of the mystery, though, is Hiram Wright, a legendary professor of old-school rigor and formality, who was pushed into retirement to make way for a new breed of scholar-teacher and a different breed of collegiate ethos.
The threads of the murder investigation allow Kluge to hold up these new breeds for scrutiny-"like an autopsy on a patient who's still alive," as one character notes. If that image makes one squirm, it's in keeping with the tart and often humorous critique that runs through the story. Fashionably politicized courses, interdisciplinary majors, study-abroad "vacations," coddled students, faculty whose "main hobby is feeling badly treated"-these and other postlapsarian sins are contrasted with Wright's remembered "college in the wilderness, a pure small place, without the summer camp counselors and the country club trappings."
Others can debate the fairness of Kluge's complaint or point out the impurities of the golden age he may imagine. Kluge portrays Wright almost uncritically, an intellectual eminence with a curmudgeonly common touch, but he does give the great man some uncomfortable secrets that cast at least a little bit of doubt on the paradise he seeks (or connives?) to regain.
Suffice it to say here that Final Exam is a compelling whodunit that readers, whatever their feelings about the state of "K," will enjoy for its many virtues: artful pacing, an intriguing cast of characters, an insightful depiction of the class tensions that often enmesh elite colleges and their rural neighbors, an ability to vividly convey both the physicality and emotional tenor of a place, and a clever ending that will please, bemuse, or irritate, depending on one's point of view. Not to mention language laced with wit, color, and drama.
"In the distance, sirens hone in on the little village," writes Kluge, ushering in a scene of the campus awakening to horrific news. Final Exam hones in itself, figuratively sounding some alarms. It will raise hackles, but it will also bring shivers-not a bad effect for a novel about finding a killer.
Those Who Save Us
By Jenna Blum '92
In her first novel, Jenna Blum has brought to life Anna Swenson and her daughter, Trudy, in a gripping tale of survival and secrecy. We meet them in Minnesota, where they have been living since they were liberated by an American soldier at the end of World War II, and where Trudy is a professor of German history. For fifty years, Anna has refused to talk about her life in Germany. But following the death of her American stepfather, Trudy discovers a family portrait that includes a German officer, and this discovery inspires an investigation into the heartbreaking territory of her mother's past. Along the way, we get to reflect on the will to survive, the nature of personal responsibility, and the legacy of shame.
The daughter of a Jewish newsman and a German concert pianist, Blum has always been fascinated by her heritage and by World War II. She spent four years in the early 1990s interviewing Holocaust survivors for Steven Spielberg's Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation and has drawn extensively on those experiences in writing Those Who Save Us. But if her impressive historical knowledge gives the book authenticity, it is her ability to create fully realized characters that keeps the reader engaged to the very last page.
Exploring Other Worlds: Margaret Fox, Elisha Kent Kane, and the Antebellum Culture of Curiosity
By David Chapin '88
University of Massachusetts Press
America's nineteenth-century "culture of curiosity," as David Chapin unpacks and dissects it in his fascinating book, culminated grandly in events like the Klondike Gold Rush and the expeditions to the North and South poles. These exploits had their genesis in men like Elisha Kent Kane, a renowned explorer, writer, and lecturer, who, by the time he was thirty-five, had already visited five continents and participated in a rescue mission to the Arctic Circle. Kane embodied an exploratory impulse centered on science and the physical world, but the age also produced a fascination with the metaphysical. Here one of the great figures was Margaret Fox, who, with her sisters, was famous for an apparent ability to communicate with the dead through knocks and snaps, called "spirit rapping."
Unlikely as it may seem, Kane and Fox became romantically involved. Despite social restraints and Kane's unease about Fox's line of "work," they saw in each other common principles of inquiry and interest that defined their generation. In a lucid and engaging style, Chapin recounts this remarkable love story, while producing an evocative portrait of an era.
-Peter Horan '04
The Trout Point Lodge Cookbook: Creole Cuisine From New Orleans to Nova Scotia
By Daniel Abel, Charles Leary '88, and Vaughn Perret
The three co-authors of the book come from vastly different backgrounds-Leary, for example, has a Ph.D. in modern Chinese history-but all are foodies at heart. As the trio became friends, they began to explore the roots of their passion, specifically in Louisiana, where Abel and Perret grew up. The more they sought the finer elements of Cajun cuisine, the more they found that indigenous delicacies (Creole Cream Cheese, for example) and venerated methodologies like "bayou venturing" for wild edibles had gone out of practice. Urbanization and the unrelaxed pace of modernity had sapped the Big Easy of its culinary traditions.
In an attempt to revive what had been lost, the three men set out to build a sanctuary where they could combine Old World principles with New World products. It started as the Chicory Farm and the Chicory Farm Café, gained extensive recognition, then grew into The Trout Point Lodge after a trip to Acadia, Nova Scotia, near where the Lodge stands today. It serves as a restaurant, cooking school, and vacation resort.
Most good cookbooks have some kind of hook, or gimmick. Here, something deeper is at work: sociological and historical exploration, and renewal, through savory, accessible French-Creole cooking. The lush landscape photography by Wayne Barrett will tempt readers to keep The Trout Point Lodge Cookbook on their coffee tables. But it will inevitably find its way into the kitchen, where it will take chefs better than a country mile from shrimp-and-gumbo (one recipe is titled "Perfect Risotto"), to savor exotic food at its finest.
The Invention of the United States Senate
By Daniel Wirls and Stephen Wirls '77
Johns Hopkins University Press
Given that the U.S. Senate traditionally has been considered one of the world's great arenas of debate and compromise, it's appropriate that this book began as an argument that evolved into consensus. Stephen and Daniel Wirls are not only brothers; both are also political science professors, Stephen at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee, and Daniel at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Their book analyzes the foundations of the Senate from when it was just a glint in a politician's eye, through the Constitutional Convention of 1787, and on into its initial operation. One of the book's great strengths is its understanding of the interplay among theoretical considerations, historical precedents, and power politics. Anyone interested in the particular forms that American democracy created for itself will find this volume insightful, useful, and provocative.
From my Whispers
By Kevin Mills '92
In this slim memoir, Mills takes us on a journey across the country and into the depths of his life. He's heading west from Boston, after having finished Harvard Business School, where he felt "like a fish swimming around in a septic tank." While thinking about the "three Ps"-"possibility, potential, and promise"-he's also filled with doubts, questions, and conflicting impulses. What should he be doing with his life? Does love reside back in Boston, with the girlfriend who just refused to marry him? In Chicago, where he meets a sensual soulmate at a friend's wedding? Or further ahead?
Mills encounters a potential guru who is as frightening as he is charismatic, and on a trail descending into the Grand Canyon he weathers a ferocious storm that turns into something like a communion. He also examines his bifurcated past-a boyhood in industrial England, the son of black immigrants, followed by a wholly different life in the United States, which began when a college named Kenyon in an obscure place called Ohio asked him to come play basketball and be a student. Throughout the trip, he calls his answering machine back home, not just to seek reassurance in the voices of others, but, in the contemplation of his own recorded message, to ponder answers to the riddle of his self.
Easy Glass Etching
by Marlis Cornett '93
Here's a delightful and easy-to-use crafts book based on the great principle of "do it yourself cheap and make it look really expensive." Cornett shows us examples of truly elegant glass etchings and clearly explains how to create them-with inexpensive tools and manageable investments of time. "Use this book as a launching pad," she writes, and then goes on to demonstrate that one doesn't have to be Martha Stewart to handsomely adorn or personalize vases, tumblers, jars, or just about anything. The book includes useful two-page spreads with stencils to help beginners get started.
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