Professor of Aesthetics

Christopher T. Leland, Author
Christopher T. Leland, Author Zoland Books $18.95 (151p) ISBN 978-0-944072-37-0
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In Leland's fourth novel (after The Book of Marvels ), the Devil visits small-town America, 1932. The vocation of his current human manifestation, an eponymous pedagogue named ``Jay Skikey'' (the alias is a tease derived by way of Dante), is the cultivation of an aesthetic of pain, physical and spiritual, with his intended lessons cautionary, even fatal. A mob enforcer on the lam from Prohibition-era Chicago, even during his enforced sabbatical in the isolated hamlet of Christina, Jay cannot resist researching and refining his professional talents, particularly at the expense of his hosts, spinster guesthouse-keeper Edna Farrell and her brother Morris, a veteran of the trenches whose calm demeanor masks a memory of a shocking collision of desire and destruction. For both siblings, nemesis looms in the guise of love remembered or longed-for, a weakness that the emphatically loveless Jay is well qualified to exploit; yet even so, this apparently unequal conflict has some ironic surprises in store. Leland unfolds his tale in the margins of a grand historical drama--Capone's gangland, WW I, urban migration--but eschews the broader canvas, preferring to apply his precise and meticulous prose to the complex psyches of his central trio. But though his writerly skills are evident, it also becomes clear that Leland (a professor of English at Wayne State University) has conceived his story in a too cerebral, abstract and academic mode for its eventual celebration of love over the aridities of the aesthetician to fully convince. (Apr.)
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