cover image Publish and Perish: Three Tales of Tenure and Terror

Publish and Perish: Three Tales of Tenure and Terror

James Hynes, Ma. Picador USA, $24 (338pp) ISBN 978-0-312-15628-2

The strange, treacherous landscape of academia serves as the milieu for the cleverly barbed novellas that comprise Hyne's second book (after his well-received novel, The Wild Colonial Boy, 1990). The characters here are mostly junior faculty and students, scholars lost in their research or holed up at their computers, faithfully tapping out sentence after sentence of dissertations they hope will win them jobs and, eventually, tenure. The irony is that although these would-be stars of university life base their careers and notions of self on their ability to explain things, they are flummoxed by forces beyond their control--love, lust and jealousy--and, because these pieces hinge on the supernatural, by forces beyond their comprehension as well. In ""Queen of the Jungle,"" a cat acts up in response to her master's adulterous relationship with a grad student, demonstrating gender solidarity with her mistress. ""99"" finds an American anthropologist, in England to research a Druidic ritual, being drawn far deeper into occult rites than he'd intended. ""Casting the Runes"" plays upon the fear of would-be profs that someone in a higher position will steal their ideas; and this time the thief has powers beyond those of mere rank. The novella form doesn't suit all the pieces (""99"" in particular feels like a short story without brakes), but the strength of these tales lies less in their plotting, which is smart enough, than in their artful prose and their ability to puncture pomposity and ambition in order to expose the human frailties that hide behind them. Hynes's tales are laced with references to Poe, M.R. James and other masters of the macabre, but in this engaging collection he puts his own deft, blackly humorous spin on the genre. (June)