cover image How I Won a Nobel Prize

How I Won a Nobel Prize

Julius Taranto. Little, Brown, $27 (304p) ISBN 978-0-316-51307-4

Taranto stages a satiric morality tale at a Connecticut university in his knotty, entertaining debut. The Rubin Institute Plymouth is, depending on whom one asks, either a predator-filled cesspool or a utopia. An “academic prison colony where the worst-behaved of great minds would live out their days,” RIP hosts events that are “flagrantly appropriative,” and located at its “throbbing center” is a massive tower dubbed “The Endowment.” Cornell professor Perry Smoot lands there after details about his affair with a student surface. Helen, a graduate student studying under Smoot, follows him to RIP, a decision that causes tension between she and her husband, Hew, whose contempt for the institute’s policies pushes him into potentially violent activism. Helen soon develops an infatuation with an older famous novelist, Leo Lens, whose reputation as an arts devotee and seducer precedes him. Taranto handles the weighty rhetoric around cancel culture and academic freedom with a light touch, though RIP is depicted more as a provocative resort than a lifelike campus, and the relationship between Helen and Leo doesn’t generate much erotic heat. Nonetheless, it’s a beguiling story about the inevitable entanglement of professional, personal, and moral situations and feelings. Agent: Emma Parry, Janklow & Nesbit Assoc. (Sept.)