cover image The Devil and Webster

The Devil and Webster

Jean Hanff Korelitz. Grand Central, $26 (368p) ISBN 978-1-4555-9238-8

Korelitz (Admission) raids the current news climate for this hot-topic read about diversity, protest, and “liberal idiocy” on the campus of progressive Webster College, headed by its first female and Jewish president, Naomi Roth, a feminist academic with her own radical past. Roth’s pride in Webster’s evolution from white male homogeneity to carefully culled inclusion is tested by the denial of tenure to popular black professor Nicholas Gall, which spawns a massive student movement to protect him led by Omar Khayal, a charismatic Palestinian student. Though Roth prides herself on speaking “truth to power,” when she is the “establishment” her words fall on deaf ears. They fail to impress even her own daughter, Hannah, a member of the protest movement; best friend, Francine, the college’s admissions dean going through her own academic crisis; and the restive college board. There’s much to ponder in this dense political and social debate, and it’s as overwhelming to Naomi as it is to readers, who, though pitying her no-win situation, can see the hypocrisy that blinds her. Ultimately, it isn’t the political twist that’s so riveting in Korelitz’s morality tale, but the apolitical, ageless struggle of a mother letting go of her daughter, a fact “so very ordinary, but... everything, too.” (Mar.)