cover image The Headmaster Ritual

The Headmaster Ritual

Taylor Antrim, . . Houghton Mifflin, $24 (309pp) ISBN 978-0-618-75682-7

Political radicalism, boarding school cruelty and the specter of a showdown with a nuclear North Korea fuel Antrim's debut novel with mostly winning results. Fleeing job and girlfriend disasters, Dyer Martin takes a job as a history teacher at the tony Britton School, an Andover-like boarding school run by Headmaster Wolfe, a 1960s radical–turned– preppy–fundraiser whose paranoia is displayed early and often. Wolfe's son, James, meanwhile, has been quietly attending Britton, but after his father forces him to move into the student dorm for his senior year, his fellow students haze the brainy and socially awkward young man. While James negotiates the stormy waters of adolescence (the centerpiece is his crush on a girl who may be romantically involved with a bully), an increasingly erratic Wolfe orders Dyer to take a team of students to the Model U.N. conference as representatives of North Korea. Dyer, however, is suspicious of Wolfe's motives, especially after he sees Wolfe covertly meet in the middle of the night with a mysterious Asian man. All is revealed at the conference, though the climax is marred by a chain of events that defies reason. Well-drawn characters and tight dialogue add appeal to Antrim's keenly observed satire. (July)